I recently read a fascinating article that discusses a study from Stony Brook University in New York that examined whether couples can still be very much in love after spending many married years together and whether they experience the same intense romantic feelings as do newly formed couples.
The scientists took MRIs of long-term married couples and compared the images to couples who had recently fallen in love. By scanning the brains of married individuals who said they still felt very much in love with their spouses after an average of more than 21 years together, the scientists were able to compare the images of specific parts of the brain that function and respond to love.
The way this was achieved was by showing the subject photos of the beloved as well as close friends and strangers. The brain activity was measured while the subject viewed the images. Then, using the same scanning methodology, the researchers compared the imaging results on men and women who had reported falling in love in the past year.
The scans showed “many very clear similarities between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love,” says Arthur Aron, Ph.D., of Stony Brook’s department of psychology. The scientists were particularly interested in the dopamine region of the brain, the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.
“The VTA showed greater response to images of a long-term partner when compared with images of a close friend or any of the other facial images,” Aron says.
The researchers are hoping that the study might be able to provide or demonstrate the details of how some couples can stay in love over long periods of time. This study seems to show both groups have brain activity in the regions that are wired for reward, motivation and desire.
Aron is looking into the possibility of using the study outcomes to assist soldiers who have returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to save their marriages. There is an unusually high level of divorce among deployed U.S. military. For a free chapter download on how to immediately improve your relationship communication skills, visit www.changingbehavior.org.