The Neurobiology of Love

Walter van den Broek
December 15, 2009

neurobiology love

Previously we discussed the neurobiology of falling in love. But this is only the beginning, the process of attraction followed by the attachment process. This process can develop and last for a while or in some cases for ever. Biologically is falling in love the first step in pair formation.

Falling in love is more accompanied by arousal and more pronounced behavior, “the madness of falling in love” as it is sometimes called. This should be distinguished but not completely from later stages of love or long lasting relationships. Moreover, falling in love is accompanied by stress reactions such as activation of stress system in the central nervous system with activation of cortisol metabolism.

In contrast to the phase of falling in love is motherly love, mother’s love for her child. It’s the most accepted form of love, an enduring social bond. Maternal and romantic love are not all the same, there is specific overlapping activity in the central nervous system as well as differences mostly in activity. Maternal and romantic love share the pattern of cortical de-activation in particular the frontal cortex. This might account for the somewhat suspended judgment when it concerns their own children. Mothers as well as lovers are a good deal more patient and less critical when it’s about their children or loved one respectively. In maternal love there is a strong activation of parts of the brain that are specific for faces. This is for the importance of reading children’s facial expressions, to ensure their well being, and therefore the constant attention of the mother for the face of the child. Another difference is the involvement of the hypothalamus only in romantic love not in maternal love, since the hypothalamus is associated with sexual arousal.

This brings us to another form of love, the more sensual, sexual part. Sex is closely related to attachment but is not always synonymous with romantic love. Sexual activity can occur in the absence of social attachment, and many forms of attachment exist that do not involve sexual behaviors.

The Neurobiology of Love in a nutshell

The areas that are involved are, in the cortex, the medial insula, anterior cingulate, and hippocampus and, in the subcortex, parts of the striatum and probably also the nucleus accumbens, which together constitute core regions of the reward system…….the areas that are activated in response to romantic feelings are largely coextensive with those brain regions that contain high concentrations of a neuro-modulator that is associated with reward, desire, addiction and euphoric states, namely dopamine. Like two other modulators that are linked to romantic love, oxytocin and vasopressin

neurobiology of love

This figure above points to some of the most but not all brain regions involved with the neurobiology of love.

Further reading
If these scribbles got you interested in the subject the articles on which this writing is based are freely available for down load:
The Neurobiology of Love (PDF), Tobias Esch & George B. Stefano, Neuroendocrinol Lett 2005; 26(3):175–192 PMID: 1599071.

Or

Minireview: The neurobiology of love (PDF), S. Zeki, FEBS Letters 581 (2007) 2575–2579

ResearchBlogging.org
ZEKI, S. (2007). The neurobiology of love FEBS Letters, 581 (14), 2575-2579 DOI: 10.1016/j.febslet.2007.03.094

Esch T, & Stefano GB (2005). The Neurobiology of Love. Neuro endocrinology letters, 26 (3), 175-92 PMID: 15990719

 

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