Love has had and will always have a special place in the heart of human beings. However, it is interesting to go beyond the romantic and poetic part to find that their real home is in the brain.

Helen Fisher proposes the existence of three love-related brain systems that interact with each other: the sex drive or lust, the romantic love and the attachment after a long relationship. FISHER, H.E. (2004). Why we love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York: Holt

In 1998, he made a research with 32 in love people who were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to detect the brain mechanisms that are activated when viewing the beloved person; 17 of them were requited and 15 had been rejected. In the first group the activity was found in the ventral tegmental area of the brain that produces dopamine, and the caudate nucleus. Both areas are part of the basic system of reward, which is associated also with the motivation to achieve objectives.

Such as Fisher (2004) refers, the ventral tegmental area is triggered like when someone experiences a rush inhaling cocaine; it suggests that romantic love is more impetus than emotion. Seen in this way, it would be a physiological need of the human being.

In the case of the 15 who had been rejected, the activity was detected at the same area, in the reward system: part of the nucleus accumbens, which is related to the addictive behaviors (such as gambling), in the insular cortex, which is associated with physical pain, and in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, associated with obsessive thoughts. It’s so explains why some people remain in love despite having been rejected since these areas are still belonging to the reward system, in which dopamine acts.

When men and women fall in love, some of the mechanisms activated are the same, the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area. However, there are differences men have more activity in part of the upper lobe of the brain, which is associated with the integration of visual stimuli, while in women, the activity increased in the areas that are related to memory and memories.

Apparently the brain activity that occurs when someone is in love, as Fisher confirmed, only happens once in the couple’s relationship, over time, four year approximately, the love is turning into affection and attachment. FISHER, H.E. (1998) Lust, attraction and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Human Nature Vol. 9 (I):23-52

Available from:

[Accessed: 9th February 2016]

Ruth Talavera Flores


Research Associate & IRIANS’s Representative for

the Iberian Peninsula and Mexico

IRIANS – The Neuroscience Institute

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