What Your Brain Looks Like When You Fall In Love

by Pamela J. Hobart

When you fall in love, it definitely feels like something big is happening in your heart, but actually most of this romantic activity originates in the brain, and the science of love is getting better all the time. As reported by Elite Daily (via ), Chinese scientists publishing in Frontiers in Human Neurosciences have recently discovered 12 key areas of the brain that become more active when the person attached to that brain is falling in love. In other words, their scans literally show what your brain looks like when you fall in love. Neat! But what does this mean? And is anyone who's ever fallen in love surprised?

The researchers from Southwest University in Chongqing, China studied 100 students who fell into three groups: some were currently in a relationship, some had recently broken up, and some had never been in love before at all. Functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques revealed that the currently-in-love brain looks different from the never-been-in-love brain; it shows more activity in more places. This is hardly shocking, because as most adults know being in love definitely has a distinct feel to it, and our brains are responsible for helping us first to feel things and then to think about those feelings (sometimes to excess, thanks obsessive lovestruck brain). Here's the in-love brain:

As compared to the never-been-in-love brain:

So it isn't terribly surprising that these love-related changes show up in the brain, even if the particulars are relatively new knowledge. But what are the implications of brain science for love? We know that the brain in love looks different than the brain in lust. Cynics would argue that both the beginning of love and its end are pretty predictable based on the changes we know happen within the brain — those lusty and even highly romantic levels of activation just can't last, biologically. But the more comfortable, reliable, and longer-lasting state of attachment also has a biological basis in the brain, one that can be maintained through practicing plain old relationship skills of kindness and generosity.

At the end of the day, science confirms folk wisdom instead of refuting it: love is a special feeling, it sometimes lasts and sometimes doesn't, and humans feel both its presence and absence profoundly. So while these "brain scan" studies are interesting and might provide more useful guidance to individuals and mental health professionals down the line, we didn't really need glowing images to prove that love is real. Is there any imaging result the Chinese researchers could have found that would have made their currently-in-love participants doubt it? I think not.

Images: arthurhidden/Fotolia, Frontiers in Human Neurosciences