Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


heartsandminds

Marry You? Let Me Consult My Brain Scan

• February 12, 2013 • 3:32 PM

(PHOTO: ANDRE BLAIS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, new research from China suggests information taken from fMRI scans may predict whether a new romantic relationship will last.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, some who find themselves in the ecstasy of a new romance will find their joy tempered by a nagging thought: “But will our love last?”

Recently published research suggests that, when it comes to predicting persistent passion, the best crystal ball may turn out to be a brain scan.

In the journal Neuroscience Letters, a research team led by Stony Brook University psychologist Xiaomeng Xu provides “preliminary evidence that neural responses in the early stages of romantic love can predict relationship stability and quality up to 40 months later.”

In a small-scale study, lovers who showed certain levels of activity in specific parts of the brain were more likely to be together three and a half years later—and, if together, were more likely to feel committed to their relationship.

The experiment, which took place in Beijing, began with 10 women and eight men, all of whom reported being “intensely in love.” Their romantic relationship had begun between 1.3 and 13 months before the experiment.

The participants looked at images of their partner, and recalled fond memories of their time together, as their brains were scanned by an fMRI machine. As a point of comparison, they also saw pictures of, and thought about, a “neutral acquaintance.”

All 18 were contacted 40 months later. Twelve responded; half were still with the same romantic partner. Those six were asked how happy they were in the relationship, and how committed they felt to their partner.

Armed with this data, the researchers went back to the original brain scans, and found some interesting patterns.

Those who were still with their partners “showed less activation during early-stage love in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, right subcallosal cingulate and right accubens—regions implicated in long-term love and relationship satisfaction,” they write. For those parts of the brain, a quieter response predicted long-term contentment.

In addition, greater activation of the caudate tail—a part of the brain that merges with the amygdala, and is “rich in dopamine receptors”—was associated with remaining together after 40 months, as well as with feelings of commitment.

This provides “preliminary evidence that neural responses in the early stages of romantic love can predict relationship stability and quality up to 40 months later,” the researchers write. The findings suggest that the longevity of a relationship is influenced by mental and emotional factors that are present early on but which lovers are unaware of.

These results need to be confirmed with larger, more diverse samples, of course. But if Xu and her colleagues are correct, a visit to an fMRI lab could eventually join the blood test–and perhaps replace the prenuptial agreement–as a pre-wedding ritual. Before jumping in, you’d might as well get a sense of how likely it is to last.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

Tags: , , , ,

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us


Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

Hunger and Low Blood Sugar Can Spur Domestic Quarrels

In an experiment, scientists found a correlation between low blood glucose and higher levels of spousal frustration.

Your Brain Starts Faltering After You Reach Age … 24

Sorry to break it to you, TSwift. At least in terms of cognitive functioning while playing StarCraft 2, you're finished.

Cavemen Were Awesome Parents

Toy hand axes, rock bashing, and special burials indicate that Neanderthals were cooler parents than previously thought, according to a new theory.

Bringing a Therapy Dog Into a Children’s Hospital Might Be a Terrible Idea

Despite the popularity of animal therapy in American pediatric hospitals, a new research review reveals that there's little support for its health benefits.

You Feel Closer to Your Destination Even When You’re Not

Simply moving toward or away from something alters the way you think about it, according to a new study.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014