January 05, 2009
Brain Scans Show Some Remain Deeply In Love For Decades

The brain scans tell the story of love.

Stony Brook University researchers looked at the brains of Bernstein and 16 other people who had been married an average of 20 years and claimed to be still intensely in love. They found that their MRIs showed activity in the same regions of the brain as those who had just fallen in love.

Social psychologist Arthur Aron says that researchers simply didn't believe those who claim to feel intensely for each other after decades of marriage.

"But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression," he said.

What I'd like to know: Do the people who maintain this feeling for decades carry genetic variants that have coded for them to bond much more heavily than the average person? I'd like to see these people compared with people who've been divorced at least twice using vasopression and oxytocin genes for starters. The delivery of vasopressin receptor gene therapy into the ventral pallidum of male voles made them more monogamous. In the future I expect some ladies will surreptitiously deliver gene therapy into the brains of their boyfriends to get them to stay around. But if the guy is already playing the field he might bond to another women he's bedding. So use of this sort of therapy requires careful staging to achieve the desired outcome.

Another future option: Women who want to stay in love forever who have the bonding brain genes could test prospective mates to choose guys who have the genes that'll keep them in love for a long time.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 January 05 11:41 PM  Brain Love

Mthson said at January 6, 2009 2:35 AM:

Finally lowering the divorce rate in a meaningful way would make many demographics happy.

Lono said at January 6, 2009 11:51 AM:

Well I can attest to this phenomena as my wife and I are as in love now as we ever were.

In fact for the last 5 years or so we have worked in the same office, only owned one car (thus car-pooling everywhere), and had a child together.

(we've lived together for over 14 years)

Most married people I know have a hard time spending a peaceful weekend together - we thrive on our relationship - despite the fact that i have never had any trouble being alone for weeks on end before we strated dating.

(nor do I have issues when she is away on business)

Now I won't lie and say having a woman constantly in my house doesn't cramp my style a bit - there are the unavoidable gender differences - but we really do fit the definition of soul mates as idealised in movies and print.

Perhaps it is due to this minority phenotype we share - and if that is the case it is unfortunate that many are seeking an unrealistic ideal.

We also do have a very strong, shared, religious belief system - but that alone does not explain are extreme compatability.

Just "good" genes I guess...

(Although I absolutely do believe in supernatural intervention in our shared normal life difficulties)

Jason Malloy said at January 6, 2009 12:23 PM:

I also wonder if people who bond intensely do so again for subsequent relationships if the first one disintegrates. In future research they should look at sibling pairs.

Imagine two sisters, 20 years old, each with a boyfriend they are strongly bonded to. One sister gets married to her boyfriend, and she stays in love forever. But the other sister gets dumped by her boyfriend or he dies in Iraq. What happens to her? Does she stay single for the rest of her life? Does she get another boyfriend and fall as deeply in love as she did the first time? Or does she get another boyfriend and just sort of feels blah and never stops day-dreaming about the first guy?

I would guess there are two different kinds of strong-bonding: situational and dispositional. The two might manifest themselves differently in the above thought experiment. Dispositional bonders would just have a high propensity to bond with whoever they are with. They might become just as strongly bonded in each subsequent relationship.

Situational bonders are people who believe they have a much higher value mate than themselves and so become very attached. Perhaps couples that become strongly bonded are often two people that are mutually highly mistaken about the high value of their current partner, or the low value of themselves. Situational bonders are probably much less likely to become attached in subsequent relationships, or to form subsequent relationships at all.

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2009 6:43 PM:

Jason, I wonder the same questions.

One thing I wonder: Do the people with intense bonding potential do a good job of finding each other? Or do we need genetic testing in order to make the sorting out by bonding potential more efficient?

Assessment of high value of partner: I'm sure that plays a role in some couples. But do others bond heavily in spite of how they assess each other's potential and fitness?

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2009 7:12 PM:

Jason, I also wonder whether all heavily bonded couples are neurologically bounded in the same way. Some are bonded by feelings of deep attraction where they feel happy seeing and thinking about the other person. But maybe others are more obsessed than happy with their mate.

So are there different emotional ways to become deeply bonded?

Randee Cooke said at January 6, 2009 10:10 PM:

Is there any solid scientific proof stating that this intense bonding is caused by genetic predisposition? Or could this simply be caused by a chemical variation?
I am intrigued, but on the fence as to what this really means.

Jerry Martinson said at January 7, 2009 7:42 PM:

I thought that Ron and Nancy Reagan had an almost continual "pupply-love" for each other that endured for decades. Yet Ronald Reagan split from his first wife. So I wonder how much of it is an individual trait and how much of it is a function of the specific matchup.

Randall Parker said at January 26, 2009 8:16 PM:

Randee Cooke,

We know from other species that genetic variations cause the differences in bonding. In particular genetic variations in vasopression in prairie voles cause huge differences in the degree of monogamy. I expect we will find variations in humans with similar effects.

David Imus said at April 17, 2010 3:19 PM:

My studies on this subject, found at my not-for-profit website www.humanpairbond.com , suggest, as you hypothesize, that individuals who can remain deeply in love for decades have that tendency because they have a genetically-regulated variation in brain structure and function. In men, the variation may be expressed as exceptionally high concentrations of vasopressin receptors in relevant areas of the limbic brain. These hypothetical concentrations would give the host a natural variation in brain function which would create in the host the potential to find partner relationships much more rewarding than the general population finds them.

However, I donít think that means, as you hypothesize, they are at risk of getting their hearts broken by partners who donít share the tendency to bond strongly. Ironically, it seems to be the other way around. People with the tendency to bond strongly seem to form strong partner bonds only with partners who have the same tendency. So much like gay individuals find fulfillment, for obvious reasons, only with gay partners; passionate individuals, which is what strong bonders are, find fulfillment only with passionate partners. They need a partner with whom to share their passion; otherwise they feel no connection. The good news is that when two passionate people ďfindĒ each other, what they have found is true love, the ultimate connection. The bad news is, they often find that true love when theyíre already with someone they canít relate to, and the person they canít relate to is the person who suffers a broken heart.

Iím trying to promote awareness of this situation, because to me it looks like there are a lot of passionate, but unfulfilled people in the world who need to find passionate partner with whom they can connect; but the current tendency is to counsel passionate individuals to dismiss their passion, just exactly like until very recently in our history the tendency was to counsel gays to dismiss their homosexuality.

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