A research team has used neuroimaging techniques to investigate how being in a romantic relationship produces alterations in the architecture of the brain. They found that being in love is associated with increased connectivity between regions of the brain associated with reward, motivation, emotion regulation, and social cognition.
“This study provides the first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in the underlying functional architecture of the brain,” wrote Hongwen Song and his colleagues, who published their findings February 13 in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
The researchers used resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) to examine differences in patterns of brain connectivity in 100 college students.
The students were divided into three groups: the “in-love” group, the “ended-love” group, and the “single” group.
The researchers found increased resting brain activity in the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the in-love group, suggesting this area of the brain is closely related to the state of falling in love.
Brain activity in the bilateral caudate nucleus, on the other hand, was significantly decreased in the ended-love group. This brain structure is associated with detection of reward, expectation, representation of goals, and integration of sensory input.
The researchers also found increased connectivity between the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and insula — a brain network associated with reward, motivation, and emotion regulation — among the in-love group.
The increase in connectivity in these brain regions “may be the result of frequent efforts [of in-love participants] to monitor their own emotional state, as well as their lovers’ emotional state, monitoring conflicts while adjusting cognitive strategies in order to resolve conflicts so as to maintain their romantic relationship,” the researchers explained.
In addition, the in-love group showed increased connectivity between the temporoparietal junction, posterior cingulate, medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and inferior parietal lobe — a brain network associated with social cognition.
“These results shed light on the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms of romantic love by investigating intrinsic brain activity, and demonstrate the possibility of applying a resting state approach for investigating romantic love,” the researchers concluded.