Love Really Is Like A Drug

Posted on 7/26/2010 by meg

Stony Brook University has discovered evidence in the brain that proves that breaking up is hard to do. Specifically, professor of social and health psychology, Arthur Aron, Ph.D. and former graduate students, Greg Strong and Debra Mashek observed participants that have suffered recent break-ups and discovered that particular parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction are active during this period of heartache.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study 15 college-age heterosexual men and women that had suffered recent rejection. Each subject reported feeling intensely in love with their ex-partner and they spent the majority of their time mulling over their loss and hoping their ex would return.

To study the neural activity, subjects were shown a photograph of their former partner. Following this, participants were asked to complete a simple math exercise to deter any romantic thoughts. Subsequently, they were given a photograph of a familiar "neutral" person to view.

The study revealed that images of former partners activated specific areas of the brain:
the ventral tegmental area in the mid-brain, which controls motivation and reward and is known to be involved in feelings of romantic love, the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, which are associated with craving and addiction, specifically the dopaminergic reward system evident in cocaine addiction, and the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate, which are associated with physical pain and distress.
These brain areas were more activate when viewing photos of ex-partners in comparison to photos of neutral persons.

Accordingly, the study of individual brain images shows that those who are still in love when rejected are not simply experiencing a specific emotion; rather they possess a passion that is goal-oriented and motivated. These brain images depict similarities between brain activity associated with romantic rejection and cocaine craving.

In addition, “this study also helps to explain ‘why feelings and behaviors related to romantic rejection are difficult to control’ and why extreme behaviors associated with romantic rejection such as stalking, homicide, suicide, and clinical depression occur in cultures all over the world.” It demonstrates a need for further investigation to understand the way in which our brains process rejection in order to treat such harmful behaviors.

Although it appears that love really is like a drug, it is not clear whether being in love is an addiction; however Dr. Aron declares that this type of research could expose useful techniques for those in recovery.

Fortunately, this research revealed that time really does heal as with the passage of time; the right ventral putamen/pallidum area of the brain that is associated with attachment becomes less and less activated over time when participants observe photographs of their former partners.

Anguish of Romantic Rejection May Be Linked to Stimulation of Areas of Brain Related to Motivation, Reward and Addiction


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