Share this article on:

The neural basis of romantic love

Bartels, Andreas1; Zeki, Semir1

Motivation, Emotion, Feeding, Drinking

The neural correlates of many emotional states have been studied, most recently through the technique of fMRI. However, nothing is known about the neural substrates involved in evoking one of the most overwhelming of all affective states, that of romantic love, about which we report here. The activity in the brains of 17 subjects who were deeply in love was scanned using fMRI, while they viewed pictures of their partners, and compared with the activity produced by viewing pictures of three friends of similar age, sex and duration of friendship as their partners. The activity was restricted to foci in the medial insula and the anterior cingulate cortex and, subcortically, in the caudate nucleus and the putamen, all bilaterally. Deactivations were observed in the posterior cingulate gyrus and in the amygdala and were right-lateralized in the prefrontal, parietal and middle temporal cortices. The combination of these sites differs from those in previous studies of emotion, suggesting that a unique network of areas is responsible for evoking this affective state. This leads us to postulate that the principle of functional specialization in the cortex applies to affective states as well.

1Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, University College London, London WCIE 6BT, UK

Received 5 September 2000; accepted 26 September 2000

Acknowledgements: Our work is supported by the Wellcome Trust London; A.B. is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. We thank G. Caffarena for technical help in recording the galvanic skin responses and R. Perry, R. Turner, R. Dolan and C. Frith for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.