Romantic love is an addiction: Study

Washington: Ever wondered why some people pine over their lost love for long? Scientists say it is because romantic rejection triggers the same effect on brain akin to kicking an addiction.

The study, the first to examine the brains of the heartbroken people, found that imagination of their former partners activate their brain region associated with addiction cravings, control of emotions, feelings of attachment and physical pain and distress.

The results provide insight into why it might be hard for some people to get over a break up and why some people take extreme steps like committing homicide and suicide, the researchers said.

"Romantic love is an addiction," said study author Helen E Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey

"It`s a very powerfully wonderful addiction when things are going well and a perfectly horrible addiction when things are going poorly," she was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

For their study, the researchers scanned the brains of 15 college-aged volunteers (10 women and 5 men) who had all recently experienced a break up, but were still in love with the person who had rejected them.

The average length of the relationship was about two years, and about two months had passed since the relationship ended.

In the experiment, participants were shown images of their former lovers and asked to recall memories of their time together. As a comparison, their brain activity was also measured when they looked at neutral images of acquaintances.

Researchers found that when shown pictures of a former loved one, the brain reacted in the the ventral tegmental area, associated with "motivation and reward."

When confronted with photos of those who had jilted them, the subjects` brains also responded in regions known as the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are typically associated with intense addiction to cocaine and addiction to cigarettes.

All participants scored high on the "Passionate Love Scale" -- a questionnaire psychologists use to measure the intensity of romantic feelings. Participants also said they spent more than 85 per cent of their waking hours thinking about their rejecter.

The researchers believe that the brain`s response to romantic rejection may have an evolutionary basis.

"I think the brain circuitry for romantic love evolved millions of years ago, to enable our ancestors to focus their mating energy on just one person at a time and start that mating process," Fisher said.

"And when you`ve been rejected in love, you have lost life`s greatest prize, which is a mating partner."

"This brain system becomes activated probably to help you try to win this person back so you focus on them and crave them and try to get them back," she said.

The results were published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.



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