Brains have a love circuit
Figures that this subject would be a topic on Valentine's Day, but it is interesting.. . . .
In humans, there are four tiny areas of the brain that some researchers say form a circuit of love. Acevedo, who works at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is part of a team that has isolated those regions with the unromantic names of ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, the ventral pallidum and raphe nucleus.
The hot spot is the teardrop-shaped VTA. When people newly in love were put in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and shown pictures of their beloved, the VTA lit up. Same for people still madly in love after 20 years.
The VTA is part of a key reward system in the brain.
"These are cells that make dopamine and send it to different brain regions," said Helen Fisher, a researcher and professor at Rutgers University. "This part of the system becomes activated because you're trying to win life's greatest prize — a mating partner."
One of the research findings isn't so complimentary: Love works chemically in the brain like a drug addiction.
"Romantic love is an addiction; a wonderful addiction when it is going well, a horrible one when it is going poorly," Fisher said.
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The team's most recent brain scans were aimed at people married about 20 years who say they are still holding hands, lovey-dovey as newlyweds, a group that is a minority of married people. In these men and women, two more areas of the brain lit up, along with the VTA: the ventral pallidum and raphe nucleus.
The ventral pallidum is associated with attachment and hormones that decrease stress; the raphe nucleus pumps out serotonin, which "gives you a sense of calm," Fisher said.
Those areas produce "a feeling of nothing wrong. It's a lower-level happiness and it's certainly rewarding," Brown said.
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