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Research on the effects of dopamine on behaviour has determined that this neurostransmitter is strongly associated with motivation, learning and pleasure.

Fisher et al. (2005) aimed to understand the role of dopamine in motivation.

Aim: Determine the role of dopamine in love and attraction.

Type of study: Repeated-measures laboratory experiment utilising fMRI data.

Hypothesis: Photos of a person the participants were in love with would elicit more brain activity in the right ventral tegmental area (the dopamine-rich area of the brain associated with the reward system) compared to photos of acquaintances.

Participants: 17 volunteer participants (10 females; 7 males) with an average age of 21 years old. On average the participants reported being in love for 7 and a half months.

Procedures:

Step 1. Participants completed the Passionate Love Scale questionnaire to determine the duration and strength of the participants’ romantic love.

Step 2. While in an fMRI, participants looked at photos of their beloved for 30 seconds.

Step 3. Participants completed a countback distraction task for 40 seconds.

Step 4. Participants were shown photos of an acquaintance for 30 seconds.

Step 5. Participants completed another countback distraction task.

Step 6. Steps 2-4 were repeated 6 times.

Results: Different areas of the brain were activated when the participants viewed photos of their beloveds compared to their acquaintances. In particular, photos of their beloveds activated the right ventral tegmental area (VTA). As mentioned above, this is a dopamine-rich area of the brain and forms part of its “reward system”.

Conclusion: Dopamine plays a role in behaviours associated with attraction and romantic love. Romantic love is universal and based on neurobiological factors.

 

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