Sun, 14 Jan 2001

Love makes you light up, even in your brain: study

NEW ORLEANS (AP): When you are in love, your eyes light up, your face lights up, and, apparently, so do four tiny bits of your brain.

A doctoral student at University College London who presented his research on Nov. 7 at the Society for Neuroscience, said, "It is the common denominator of romantic love."

Andreas Bartels used functional MRI, a brain scan showing the brain over time instead of a still picture, to examine 17 students who said they were truly in love -- and whose statements were backed up by psychological tests.

When the subjects were shown photographs of their sweethearts, different areas of the image lit up -- indicating higher blood flow -- than when they were shown photographs of friends.

Anywhere from six to 20 parts of the brain showed increased activity, varying from person to person, but only a common denominator of four were found in all 11 women and six men, Bartels said.

The images are clear, but the emotions are not, said Dr. Marcus Raichle of Washington University, who attended Bartels' presentation. The brain scan images do show a common reaction, he said. "The question is, what is the state he is eliciting?"

Bartels said the lack of previous research was what interested him. "Vast numbers of studies have been done on negative emotions -- fear, sadness, anger, disgust. We decided to tease out a positive emotion."

Raichle was at the news conference to discuss his own work, on emotion and memory. He used the same type of functional MRI brain scans to examine 18 people who were asked to count the number of people in photographs.

Some of the pictures were neutral -- the focus was things like furniture. Others were designed to create very negative emotions, such as pictures of mutilated bodies.

People were slower and less accurate when looking at the negative pictures and parts of the brain associated with emotion became more active, while parts associated with thought grew less so, he said. -- Janet McConnaughey