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There seems to be a vogue at the present time for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. As part of the problem, I feel qualified to comment on some interesting recent research.
Once you start to read the literature in this area, you realise that there are some pretty odd studies published out there in the ether. For example, an enterprising team from New Jersey have looked at fMRI changes in the brains of people who have fallen in love. Early in relationships, planning and pursuit areas of the brain are activated whereas, in more ‘mature’ relationships, the ‘emotional’ areas of the brain—the insular cortex and anterior cingulate cortex—are lit up.
No prizes for guessing that there is a sex difference. Women in love show more brain emotional area activity early in a relationship. They also activate their memory areas at the same time, suggesting perhaps that they pay more attention to past experience in this process. Men, by contrast, activate their visual areas early on and in the very diplomatic words of the study’s lead author they activate the “regions associated with penile turgidity”. Another way of describing the different gender responses would be ‘love’ versus ‘lust’. Isn’t science wonderful?
Perhaps the strangest fact of all to come from this line of research is that the dopamine rich areas of the brain such as the caudate nucleus and ventral tegmentum, which are activated by this early phase of romantic love, are also equally activated by eating chocolate. So if your romantic life is not happening at present, just slip down to the local supermarket and get a chocolate treat. For some this may be as good as it gets!
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