The American Physiological Society believes that the big question has been answered. Research conducted by a neuroscientist, an anthropologist, and a social psychologist–Drs. Arthur Aron, Helen E. Fisher, Debra J. Mashek, et al.–has revealed that sex and romantic love are two different animals (well, at least the sex is). In addition, it seems that romantic love has a distinct biological drive:
“Most of the participants in our study clearly showed emotional responses,” noted Arthur Aron of the State University of New York-Stony Brook, “but we found no consistent emotional pattern. Instead, all of our subjects showed activity in reward and motivation regions. To emotion researchers like me, this is pretty exciting because it’s the first physiological data to confirm a connection between romantic love and motivation networks in the brain.
“As it turns out, romantic love is probably best characterized as a motivation or goal-oriented state that leads to various specific emotions, such as euphoria or anxiety,” Aron noted. “With this view, it becomes clearer why the lover expresses such an imperative to pursue his or her beloved and protect the relationship.”
Aron added: “Our participants who measured very high on a self report questionnaire of romantic love also showed strong activity in a particular brain region–results that dramatically increase our confidence that self-report questionnaires can actually measure brain activity.”
Aron also noted that the research answered the “historic question of whether love and sex are the same, or different, or whether romantic passion is just warmed over sexual arousal.” He said, “Our findings show that the brain areas activated when someone looks at a photo of their beloved only partially overlap with the brain regions associated with sexual arousal. Sex and romantic love involve quite different brain systems.”
Aron reported that, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other measurements, he and his colleagues found support for their two major predictions: (1) early stage, intense romantic love is associated with subcortical reward regions rich with dopamine; and (2) romantic love engages brain systems associated with motivation to acquire a reward…
Another important discovery, Brown said, was that “to our surprise, the activation regions associated with intense romantic love were mostly on the right side of the brain, while the activation regions associated with facial attractiveness were mostly on the left.
“We didn’t predict such a striking lateralization,” Brown reported…”