Researchers from the United States, lead by Bianca Acevedo from the College of Medicine at Albert Einstein College (New York City), began their study to decide if romantic love is long lasting--at least, longer than fifteen months or so.
They used the brain activity of human subjects who had been married various lengths of time, from only a few months to many years.
One person viewed pictures of their partner while being studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. Scans of fMRI analyze brain activity by mapping changes in oxygen levels that correspond to activities within nerve cells.
Some of the couples (only a small percentage), who were married for a long time, claimed to still be in love (still excited after all those years), just like when they first dated.
The Acevedo-lead study found that couples who had intense love for each other—for an average of 21 years of marriage—had similar brain activity with couples who had been married only for a few months.
The part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) has been shown earlier in other studies to show increased activity when people are in early stages of being in love.
The researchers concentrated on this part of the brain during their fMRI scans, but also involved other regions, too.
Page two continues with the results.
The researchers found that the VTA parta of the brain within both the decades-long married couples and the months-long married couples were similar when partners were shown pictures of each other.
On the other hand, people in short-term relationships had increased activities in still another brain area that is associated with feelings of anxiety, stress, and obsession.
The researchers contend that early marriages contain more obsessions, anxieties, and other such feelings, but that those feelings are (sometimes) replaced after many years with feelings of calm.
At least, they are replaced in those couples that feel they are still on their honeymoon.
Co-author Helen Fisher (anthropologist at Rutgers University, New Brunswick (campus), New Jersey) stated, “The difference is that in long-term love, the obsession, the mania, the anxiety has been replaced with calm.” [Science News: “Still love-struck after 20 years,” December 6, 2008, page 17]
The results of the study were presented on Sunday, December 7, 2008, at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, which was held in Washington, D.C.
Additional information on the study appears in the ABC News article “Proof's in the Brain Scan: Romance Doesn't Have to Fade, which states that this study "counters popular wisdom that romance ends within 12 to 15 months).”