IN LOVE BRAIN CHANGES
New research suggests that falling in love has amazing effects on the brain. It not only mutes the intensity of pain impulses; but, love feelings travel the same neural pathways as do powerful drugs. So watch out -- Like morphine, passion can be addictive.
Hey, maybe that's why young men in love do stupid things to show-off, physically dangerous stunts, to impress their beloved -- because if they misstep, fall or crash, it doesn't hurt as much. I'm not so sure love counts the same when it comes to today's extreme sports. It would be unethical for researchers to ask subjects to jump between tall buildings to test the extremes, if a guy might fall 10 stories. Even if love is as strong as cement, landing on it could break almost everything in your body, though it may not hurt all that much.
The study came from researchers at Stanford University, who tested 15 volunteers -- undergraduates who were in the early phases of passionate love.
Each of the subjects brought a photo of their loved one, and another photo of a friend with whom there was no romantic bond. While each participant held a stimulator that got hot enough to cause them pain, a scanner, fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), was used to watch the brains of these besotted students who examined each of the photos and carried out a mental task -- while the stimulator got hotter, going from warm to uncomfortably hot to painfully searing.
CAN WITHSTAND MORE PAIN
Researchers found that both the mental distraction and examining the photo of their beloved let each subject withstand greater pain than looking at a photo of a friend. Both lowered the feeling of "moderate pain" by up to 45 percent, and reduced "high pain" by up to 13 percent. However, working on a mental problem only distracted the brain, while the sensation of love stimulated "primitive, 'reptilian' regions" of the brain. These are the same areas that cause us to become addicted to drugs.
Yes, love is like cocaine in that it provokes a similar chemical reaction inside your head.
"The areas of the brain activated by intense love are the same areas that drugs use to reduce pain," said Arthur Aron, coauthor of the new study and a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
"There is intense activation in the reward area of the brain -- the same area that lights up when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money."
Even though previous studies have found that loving feelings can mitigate feels of pain, this study was the first to look at the brain during the process.
BRAIN BLASTING DOPAMINE
In reporting this study, the Scientific American said "Love, too, can get the brain blasting higher levels of the feel-good dopamine neurotransmitter."
As study coauthor Sean Mackey, associate professor of anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine, explained: "When passionate love is described like this, it in some ways sounds like an addition. We thought, 'Maybe this does involved similar brain systems as those involved in addictions which are heavily dopamine-related."
SUBJECTS USUALLY YOUNG STUDENTS
Researchers who conduct studies at universities, where they are faculty-members, most often use young college students as their research subjects. I always wonder whether it is accurate to extrapolate from the findings and extend them to persons of other ages.
The older one gets, and the more experience one has under their belt, the more they change. And physically, there are number of changes which occur, including the brain. How do you suppose a 50-year-old person, who has painful chronic arthritis, and is passionately in love again -- after previously experiencing the emotion through several affairs and marriages, might react to pain? I'll bet it would not be the same as the 20-year-old, without chronic pain, in his first throes of passion. And is the older person as likely to succumb to love as an addiction?
If my suspicions prove to be true, this doesn't mean that there isn't fascination and great value to this new research. It's merely a warning not to extend findings to different populations.
by Sharon McEachern