New research has found evidence of a link between a brain region associated with executive control and men’s commitment to their relationship.
“How we can maintain intimate romantic relationships is a very important topic in terms of evolution. However, there have been few studies which tried to investigate its neural mechanism,” remarked study author Ryuhei Ueda of Kyoto University.
In the study, which was published in Experimental Brain Research, 50 men between the ages of 20 and 39 had their brain activity monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they completed a go/no-go task.
The task is a common test of self-control that is known to involve the activation of an area of the brain called the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC).
The participants, who had all been in a relationship for at least 6 months, then completed a date-rating task in which they were shown images of women and asked to report how much they were interested in dating each one.
The researchers found that increased activation of the VLPFC during the go/no-go task was associated with reduced interest in dating the women. However, this association was only found among participants in long-term relationships. There was no link between VLPFC activation and the desire to date other women among men in newer relationships.
“According to our findings, in the beginning of the relationship (which is often more exciting) you might not need ‘willpower’ to resist the temptation of dates with attractive alternatives. However, if you are in a long-term lasting relationship, such ‘willpower’ might be required to remain in the relationship,” Ueda explained to PsyPost.
“We predict that in the beginning of the relationship, passionate love, instead of willpower would suppress the temptation of extra-pair relationships. But we do not have any data to sufficiently support this idea for now. We need to tackle this issue in the future studies,” he added.
The study, “Executive control and faithfulness: only long-term romantic relationships require prefrontal control“, was authored by Ryuhei Ueda, Kuniaki Yanagisawa, Hiroshi Ashida, and Nobuhito Abe.