Around you, it’s the waltz of sad hearts. Couples come and go. And for fear of being ruined, the lonely souls committed themselves to remain so. So love someone for a lifetime? The idea seems completely unreasonable now. And yet …
What if we, on the contrary, could all make love forever? What if we had all the tools within us to love in the long term, as a bonus, the love of the early days? This is what American psychologist Arthur Aron discovered and researchers from Stony Brook University in the United States. In 2012, they studied through MRI the brains of people who were in an average twenty-year relationship and who said they were still in love. They observed their brain activity when their partner’s photo was presented.
Attachment Neural Networks
In these lovers, two specific neural networks are activated which are the biological pillars of lasting love. First, the neural network of attachment, which connects the three regions of the brain: the insular cortex, where the need for another is born, the cingulate cortex that allows us to fully feel our emotions and the pallidum, directing actions toward a goal.
But we also see in the brains of these old lovers, and these are perhaps the most bizarre, the typical alligators of the early days of love, within two regions that are close to each other and that communicate between them: the ventral tegmental area (VTA, for ventral tegmental area, in English) and the nucleus accumbens, which forms the so -called reward circuit. It is, deep down in our cranial box, beneath the thought system, that love is born and lasts.
How do these couples succeed in making these brain connections when others see their love slowly fading? The secret is undoubtedly hidden in a small mammal with a bucolic name: the prairie vole. This animal native to North America has a particularity that distinguishes it from all other rodents: when it meets the choice of its heart, it becomes an inseparable couple with him. Man and woman are loyal, protective and caring.
At the beginning of this behavior, there is a specific substance, especially present in this species: oxytocin, a “social neuropeptide” (which acts as a neurotransmitter and as a hormone) and which we find in the brain. but also in blood. The researchers found that a direct injection of oxytocin into the brain of a prairie vole in the presence of a person of the opposite sex created at first a lasting tendency to stay with another, to hug against him. .
In humans, oxytocin is especially present in large amounts in the mother during childbirth and breastfeeding, which explains the explosion of love that a woman feels during the birth of her child.
A sense of connection to each other
And that’s not all. Scientists at Stony Brook University have noticed that the third brain network is activated by our elderly loved ones. The medial insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, areas often involved in self -awareness, also play a role. “When you think of someone very close, the same areas that are active in your brain as you think of yourself. Others can be like a part of yourself,” explanation by Arthur Aron. This is undoubtedly one of the secrets of lasting love.
This sense of connection to one is not just an impression: the brains are really connected. Uri Hasson, an American scientist from Princeton University, thus measures the activity of our cranial box when we communicate with another person. Sometimes it’s calm, or almost …
But it also happens that we are on the same wavelength: the same thing happens in the brain of the speaker as in the listener. Sometimes the connection is that the listener is still expecting the brain reactions of the other.
If two people are in cerebral synchrony, they get along with each other. Uri Hasson goes on to say that this type of communication (literally when two minds meet) is one and the same act performed by both brains. This synchronization can be very fast from the first meeting and will strengthen over time.
Programmed to last
In fact, everyone suggests that our brains and our bodies are programmed to experience lasting love, far from theories about love lasting only three or seven years. A love that, in the end, may not be too far away from parents for their children… In any case, this is the thesis of Larry Young, a neurobiologist from Emory University in the United States.
According to this great specialist in the chemistry of love, the monogamous bond between people may be the result of the evolution of brain mechanisms that, in the past, served to bind the mother to her children. And indeed, the cerebral network of attachment seen on MRIs of couples at Stony Brook University is, more or less, the one that is activated when a mother looks at a photograph of her child.
It remains to be seen why we sometimes find it difficult to maintain a long -term romantic relationship. At this point, we are not all the same. A 2020 study led by neuroscientist Bianca Acevedo of the University of California, Santa Barbara showed that our ability to nurture lasting love depends on some of our genes…
Another factor: stress. When we are taken to our job, for example, we spend little time with our spouse, which, almost mechanically, can gradually erode the sense of connection to the other. We also find it difficult to communicate with him because stress changes our thinking abilities.
The importance of sharing emotions
But good news, it’s possible to empirically recreate the chemistry of love! Researchers thus emphasize the importance of positive emotions when they are experienced together. Uri Hasson shows that brain synchronization is stronger when we share emotions such as joy, gratitude, or enthusiasm.
Among these positive emotions, one is even more beneficial for the couple: the feeling of superiority, that is to say how we feel in front of admirable places, deeds or people and give us an impression of elevating ourselves internally. Meditation on nature together, a work of art, for example, works on our autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system responsible for involuntary control functions).
And it is heard especially in the vagus nerve, this long nerve conduit that comes from the brainstem, deep in the skull, and that connects the brain to the heart. However, increasing vagus nerve activity can relax the body by slowing the heart rate and increasing oxytocin levels that promote connectivity. But for that, you have to experiment, feel, marvel at both. So, we left everything, and we took time to love each other!