What is love? Love is a unique group of behaviors and emotions characterized by emotional intimacy, commitment, passion, and caring. It entails reciprocity, proximity, protection, love, emotional affection, and concern. Love may vary in intensity at different times and can vary greatly over time. It can be defined as the desire to be loved, to be cared for, to be respected, to be understood, or to share with others.
Why do some people find deep romantic love while others fall in love inflexible and unsatisfying? The answer lies in our brains. The physical response to being in love is quite different from one person to the next. This difference can account for why some people are intensely in love and others aren’t. While there is nothing inherent about our neurology that causes all people to experience deep romantic love, it does influence our brain regions that control romantic love experiences.
In romantic love, the brain regions that address emotions (amygdala, hippocampus, and midbrain) are located close to each other. Individuals who are highly in love have larger volumes of gray matter in the cerebral cortex. This is the region of the brain that generates most of our memories. Individuals who are less in love have smaller volumes of grey matter in the cerebral cortex and the amygdala, which generates less memories. This difference has been demonstrated in humans when viewing photos of their romantic partners.
In addition to these differences in cerebral volumes, individuals in romantic love show significantly different brain activity when viewing videos of themselves or others in love. When viewing someone else in love, parts of the brain that process facial expression and speech become more active. This provides a sense of empathy for the other person in the interaction, even if the individual is not consciously aware of feeling empathy. Individuals in loving relationships show similar patterns in brain activity when processing information about the other person. As these patterns are activated during watching videos of others in love, these indicate that these individuals are taking into account other peoples feelings and are more empathic than individuals who are not in romantic love.
Another study showed that this pattern was found even when an individual was not consciously aware of being feeling any kind of affection toward another person. In one study, college students were shown either a video of someone doing a specific action, or a video of a stranger saying some kind words to them. The college students then completed questionnaires about their own feelings of affection toward their friends. The results of this study showed that those individuals who showed more liking to another person during the questionnaires actually had stronger feelings for that friend than those individuals who showed no liking at all. It also showed that this liking extended beyond the emotional realm as well.
While these findings are encouraging for people who are seeking a long-term partner, they also have limitations. These results do not prove that real love is a state of one-sided love where one individual feels very good and the other feels bad. It does indicate, however, that there is an important link between emotions, feelings and behaviors. And these behaviors can impact successful relationships and long-term marriages.
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