scientists watch how new love sears the brain

Science and Technology

Moderator: Damelon

scientists watch how new love sears the brain

Postby Duchess of Malfi » Sat Jun 04, 2005 2:05 am

Quote:
Love can make you crazy

It's true! Neuroscientists report brain scans reveal altered state

By Benedict Carey

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE


New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior -- compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops -- that could almost be mistaken for psychosis.

Now for the first time, neuroscientists have produced brain scan images of this fevered activity, before it settles into the wine and roses phase of romance or the joint holiday card routines of long-term commitment.

In an analysis of the images appearing in The Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers in New York and New Jersey argue that romantic love is a biological urge distinct from sexual arousal.

It is closer in its neural profile to drives like hunger, thirst or drug craving, the researchers assert, than to emotional states like excitement or affection. As a relationship deepens, the brain scans suggest, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters slightly, and in some cases primes areas deep in the primitive brain that are involved in long-term attachment.

The research helps explain why love produces such disparate emotions, from euphoria to anger to anxiety, and why it seems to become even more intense when it is withdrawn.

"When you're in the throes of this romantic love it's overwhelming, you're out of control, you're irrational, you're going to the gym at 6 a.m. every day -- why? Because she's there," said Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and the co-author of the analysis. "And when rejected, some people contemplate stalking, homicide, suicide. This drive for romantic love can be stronger than the will to live."

Said Dr. Hans Breiter, director of the Motivation and Emotion Neuroscience Collaboration at Massachusetts General Hospital, "I distrust about 95 percent of the MRI literature, and I would give this study an A; it really moves the ball in terms of understanding infatuation love."

In the study, Fisher, Dr. Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and Dr. Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, led a team that analyzed about 2,500 brain images from 17 college students who were in the first weeks or months of new love. The students looked at a picture of their beloved while an MRI machine scanned their brains. The researchers then compared the images with others taken while the students looked at picture of an acquaintance.

Functional MRI technology detects increases or decreases of blood flow in the brain, which reflect changes in neural activity.

In the study, a computer-generated map of particularly active areas showed hot spots deep in the brain, below conscious awareness, in areas called the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area, which communicate with each other as part of a circuit.

These areas are dense with cells that produce or receive a brain chemical called dopamine, which circulates actively when people desire or anticipate a reward.

Yet falling in love is among the most irrational of human behaviors, not merely a matter of satisfying a simple pleasure, or winning a reward. And the researchers found that one particular spot in the MRI images, in the caudate nucleus, was especially active in people who scored highly on a questionnaire measuring passionate love.

This passion-related region was on the opposite side of the brain from another area that registers physical attractiveness, the researchers found, and appeared to be involved in longing, desire and the unexplainable tug that people feel toward one person.

This distinction, between finding someone attractive and desiring him or her, between liking and wanting, "is all happening in an area of the mammalian brain that takes care of most basic functions, like eating, drinking, eye movements, all at an unconscious level, and I don't think anyone expected this part of the brain to be so specialized," Brown said.

The intoxication of new love mellows with time, of course, and the brain scan findings reflect some evidence of this change, Fisher said.

In an earlier functional MRI study of romance, published in 2000, researchers at University College London monitored brain activity in young men and women who had been in relationships for about two years. The brain images, also taken while participants looked at photos of their beloved, showed activation in many of the same areas found in the new study -- but significantly less so, in the region correlated with passionate love, she said.


I thought that this was very interesting. It would be cool if they could do follow-up sorts of studies of other strong emotions as well. I wonder if a new convert to a religion, for example, would have any interesting brain activity show up. And what would show up if a very prejudiced person was shown pictures of the people s/he is prejudiced against? ******************************************************

Our lives are the songs that sing the universe into existence.~David Zindell
<i></i>
User avatar
Duchess of Malfi
Lady Scryer
 
Posts: 9653
Joined: Sun Nov 17, 2002 5:11 pm
Location: Michigan, USA

Return to Pelablinka



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron