FRIDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) -- Being unlucky in love
stimulates areas of the brain that play a role in motivation,
reward and addiction -- something that may help explain why the
anguish of romantic rejection can be difficult to control, says a
The findings may improve understanding of the most extreme
behaviors associated with rejection, such as stalking, murder and
suicide, said the researchers from Rutgers University in N.J., and
Yeshiva University, Stony Brook University and the State University
of New York in New York.
They used functional MRI to observe brain activity in 15
heterosexual college-age men and women who had recently been
rejected by a romantic partner but said they were still intensely
in love with that person.
The average length of time since the rejection and enrollment in
the study was 63 days, the participants scored high on a
psychological evaluation called the Passionate Love Scale, and all
reported that they spent more than 85 percent of their time
thinking about their former partner and yearning for his or her
When the participants looked at a photo of their former
partners, there was much greater activity in several areas of the
brain than when they looked at a photo of a familiar "neutral"
person, such as a roommate's friend. The increased activity was
- the ventral tegmental area of the mid-brain, which controls
motivation and reward and is known to play a role in romantic
- the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex,
which are involved in craving and addiction
- the insular cortex and anterior cingulate, which play a role in
physical pain and distress.
There was hope for the broken-hearted, however. The researchers
found that the longer the time since a romantic rejection, the less
activity there was in an area of the brain involved in attachment
(the right ventral putamen/pallidum).
In addition, there was activation in areas of the brain that
play a role in reappraising difficult emotional situations and
assessing gains and losses. This suggests that people who
experienced romantic rejection were trying to understand and learn
from this difficult situation, which would be an adaptive response
to rejection, the researchers said.
In a news release from the American Psychological Association,
which published the study in the July issue of the
Journal of Neurophysiology, the researchers suggested that "the passion of 'romantic love' is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion."
The results are "consistent with the hypothesis that romantic
rejection is a specific form of addiction," they added, and may
help explain why letting go of a loved one is so difficult.
The American Psychological Association has more on
youth and love relationships.