Brain scans show what makes love last

February 14, 2011 3:10:20 PM PST
Valentine's Day seems to be an excuse for couples to buy one another presents, show their affection, and just make everyone a little happier for a day.

Two doctors from Stony Brook University conducted a study in search for the underlying cause of the lovebug and what makes people stay in love for the long-term.

Joan and Frank Kaiser have been married for thirty years and they're still very much in love.

"He makes me laugh, because communication is overrated," said Joan.

"We actually talk to each other with trust about anything," said Frank.

That sounds like what couples newly in love might say. Dr. Bianca Acevedo and Dr. Arthur Aron compared long term intense relationships like the Kaisers' with newly started ones.

"Whether it was the same thing or not we weren't sure, but it turned out to be virtually identical by a sophisticated MRI-scan which looked at the brain areas that lit up when partners were shown photos of their loved ones," said Dr. Aron.

"People in long-term relationships showed other areas of the brain associated with feelings of attachment," Dr. Bianca Acevedo.

Another hot area of the brain was for addiction to cocaine and narcotics.

"It's not that that area is wired for cocaine. It's hard wired to the enormously powerful sensations of love. Drugs happen to hit that same circuit," said Dr. Aron.

Couples who scored high on questionnaires measuring passion showed activation of the hippocampus, similar in new love and in long-term relationships with active sex.

"Sex is a bonding experience," the Kaisers said.

"You can't sweat the small stuff. Just have fun together and just make time to be together," said Joan Kaiser.

The authors of the study have some advice for those who want long-term relationships, and they recommend doing challenging, novel and exciting things together. Celebrate each other's successes, support your partner toward their goals - not what you want for them, but for the person they want to become.