According to new research from Stanford University, romantic love may serve as a natural painkiller. The study found that intense feelings of love activate dopamine-oriented centers of the brain, the same areas that also react to drugs such as cocaine.
Dr. Sean Mackey, lead study author and chair of the pain management division at Stanford, studied 15 couples in “new and passionate love”. Here is a rundown of the study thanks to Time.com:
Each of the volunteers was asked to bring in a picture of their significant other, along with a photo of an “equally attractive” platonic friend. The friend’s picture served as the control in the study, to adjust for any potential effects of attractiveness.
The participants then went through a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner where they were shown the photos one at a time. Serving as an additional control, the students also had to complete a mental skill test. During all three tasks, they had to hold a heated device that got just hot enough to produce mild pain.
The research team then compared how the brain reacted to each of the three tasks. They found that while looking at a photo of their significant other, the volunteers could withstand a greater amount of pain. The scans also showed that the parts of the brain involved in love are different from the typical analgesic pathways, as well as the areas that are involved with distraction.
Dr. Mackey says:
“These pain-relieving systems are linked to reward systems… Love engages these deep brain systems that are involved with reward and craving and similar systems involved in addiction.”
This study is published in the journal PLoS One.