Science Now

For Valentine's Day, draw brains, not hearts

How do I love thee? Let me count the brain regions

Forget the heart and Cupid this Valentine's Day. It's the brain that makes you do crazy stuff when you're in love. 

In fact, love apparently can remodel your brain, according to a study published online Friday in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

It's the latest in science's admittedly wonky attempts to look for a biological root to a phenomenon most have experienced but few can define. One study, for example, has shown women in love do better at cognitive tasks after being subliminally prompted with their lover's name. Other studies suggest our personal microbiome may ignite the "chemistry" between pairs.

Researchers in China wanted to know how 10 regions of the brain hook up after you hook up, and how that connectivity might differ among those who recently ended an affair, and those still looking for love.

They recruited about 30 students in each of those categories, from Southwest University in Chongqing, then had them lie still in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine.

Two networks appeared to be on more intimate neurological terms among the smitten, compared with the other groups, according to the study. One mediates reward, motivation and emotional regulation; the other supports social cognition, attention, memory, mental association and self-representation.

Local connectivity within the regions, a measurement known as regional homogeneity, also appeared stronger, according to the study.

More importantly, the functional connectivity of several key brain regions that conspire in love was stronger for those in the longest-lasting passionate relationships, and weaker as time elapsed after a breakup. 

"We found a correlation between brain change and love duration in the love group, and we also found negative correlation between the brain change and the duration since love ended," said study co-author Zhiling Zou, a Southwest University psychologist who is a visiting scholar at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "So, I think this kind of brain change is love-related.”

The study did not follow the students over time, so the researchers can't say whether the changes are long-lasting. Zou said she is keen to try that next.

Plenty of studies appear to support the analysis, said Icahn researcher Federico d'Oleire Uquillas. "We know that falling in love will promote focus and attention on a preferred individual," he said. "These feelings are accompanied by good feelings – euphoria, but also craving, emotional dependence, personality changes and risk-taking.” 

Or, as Shakespeare wrote:

          "Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;

          Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;

          Being vex'd a sea nourish'd with lovers' tears:

          What is it else? a madness most discreet,

          A choking gall and a preserving sweet."

          ("Romeo and Juliet," 1.1)

Show some love. Follow me on Twitter: @LATsciguy

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
65°