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Still love-struck after 20 years: some long-married couples are as giddy as teenagers.

New research on brain activity confirms that people can be madly in love with each other long after the honeymoon is over.

Researchers led by Bianca Acevedo of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York wanted to know if romantic love--or at least the brain activity it triggers--could last. To everyone's relief, the answer is yes.

People who report being madly in love for an average of 21 years maintain activation in a brain region associated with early-stage love, the researchers reported.

Using fMRI, Acevedo and colleagues monitored the brain activity of long-term lovers while they viewed pictures of their partners. The researchers were particularly interested in a small group of people who had been with the same person for many years and claimed to still feel the excitement of the early days.

People who had been experiencing intense love for 20 years and people who had been in love for only months showed similar activation in the ventral tegmental area of the brain--a region known to be activated during the intense, burning stages of early love. The same area is activated by the rush of cocaine.

At the same time, key differences between the early- and late-stage lovers emerged. People in long-term relationships showed higher levels of activity in a part of the brain associated with calmness and pain suppression, whereas people in love for shorter periods had higher activity in a region associated with obsession and anxiety.

"The difference is that in long-term love, the obsession, the mania, the anxiety has been replaced with calm," says study coauthor Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

"There is an evolutionary advantage to being paired," says researcher J. Thomas Curtis, who studies pair-bonding in prairie voles, which are known for forming lifelong monogamous pairs.

Much of the research on voles, including Curtis' work at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, supports these new findings, he says. In fact, when researchers get rid of the ventral tegmental area of a vole brain, the animal no longer forms pair bonds.

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Title Annotation:Neuroscience
Author:Sanders, Laura
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 6, 2008
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