To The Brain All Romantic Love Is The Same


To the brain, love is love: it does not seem to matter whether you are straight or gay, male or female when it comes to romantic love. That was the finding from a new study from University College London, where investigators used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain activity in people in love.

A brain scan may show why love is blind

Several recent studies have examined the phenomenon of romantic love. In this latest study from University College London, investigators evaluated 24 individuals ages 19 to 47 who had been involved in a romantic relationship ranging from 4 months to 23 years. The subjects included six heterosexual and six homosexual females and six heterosexual and six homosexual males, all of whom said they were romantically and sexually involved with their partner.

In the study, the participants first looked at pictures of their romantic partners and then at pictures of friends of the same sex as their partners but to whom they did not have romantic feelings. During both viewings, the investigators scanned the subjects’ brains using fMRI.

The fMRI scans showed similar brain responses between the different groups of subjects in terms of neurotransmitter activity in the dopaminergic (pleasure) areas. Dopaminergic activity has been shown to be strongly associated with other neurotransmitter activities that are important in regulating emotional relationships and bonding.


The brain scans also revealed that large areas of the cerebral cortex were deactivated when the subjects looked at pictures of their romantic partners. These deactivated areas include regions that are believed to be involved with judgment, which led the authors to suggest this deactivation may have a role in why lovers tend to be less judgmental about their romantic partners (or “love is blind”).

Professor Semir Zeki, from the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at University College London, noted that “Passionate romantic love is commonly triggered by a visual input and is an all-consuming and disorienting state.” He explained that although previous research has shown romantic love to be a complex emotion, “the brain patterns triggered when viewing the face of someone you’re in love with are limited to only a few, though richly connected, brain regions.”

In another recent study of romantic love, researchers at Stony Brook University discovered that brain activity in couples recently in love is the same as that in people involved in a long-term romantic relationship. This study also involved the use of fMRI and asking subjects to view pictures of their romantic partners and of nonromantic friends. The investigators said their findings offer clues as to what makes love last.

A 2009 study, also from Stony Brook University, reported that romance does not have to fade in long-term relationships, and that romantic love can last a lifetime. In that study, researchers explained that “romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component.”

The University College London researchers concluded that while they found no difference in the brain scans in their study of romantic love, it does not mean differences do not exist. They suggested, for example, that differences may be seen when the sexual elements of love are added to the picture.

University College London

Updated 5/9/2014