SYRACUSE U. (US) — When a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, according to a new study.
The love feeling, which only takes about a fifth of a second to occur, also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors, and body image.
So what really falls in love, the heart or the brain?
“That’s a tricky question,” says Stephanie Ortigue, assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University.
“I would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa.
“For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Some symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain.”
The results of the study are published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Previous research has found that blood levels of nerve growth factor, or NGF, also increased, and were significantly higher in couples who had just fallen in love. This molecule plays an important role in the social chemistry of humans, or the phenomenon of ‘love at first sight.’
“These results confirm love has a scientific basis,” says Ortigue.
The findings have major implications for neuroscience and mental health research because when love doesn’t work out, it can be a significant cause of emotional stress and depression, Ortigue says.
“It’s another probe into the brain and into the mind of a patient. By understanding why they fall in love and why they are so heartbroken, they can use new therapies.”
By identifying the parts of the brain stimulated by love, doctors and therapists can better understand the pains of love-sick patients.
The study also shows different parts of the brain fall for different kinds of love.
For example, unconditional love, such as that between a mother and a child, is sparked by the common and different brain areas, including the middle of the brain, while passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain and associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.
Researchers from West Virginia University and Geneva University Psychiatric Center in Switzerland contributed to the study.
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