- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

The mystery of love has fueled prim poesy and purple prose alike over the eons. Now it has inspired a pair of methodical British neurologists who believe they can tell if someone is truly, madly and deeply in love.

Forget tender looks, pounding hearts and sweet talk.

These love doctors believe the lovey-dovey instinct is all in the brain the medial insula, the anterior cingulate, the striatum and the prefrontal cortex to be exact.

According to a research paper released yesterday, Drs. Semir Zeki and Andreas Bartels of the University College London managed to get 17 love-struck volunteers to be still long enough for a brain scan, under decidedly unromantic circumstances.

Each volunteer was hooked up to a lie detector, then shown a photograph of his or her beloved. The same four regions of the brain lit up on the scans of each giddy subject, and those spots were quite specific.

The regions are associated with gut feelings, a sense of reward, euphoria and depression certainly the hallmarks of love, if song and story are to be believed.

"We were really struck by how clear cut the activity was," noted Dr. Bartels. "It's not surprising that we got a response in those particular parts of the brain."

Each test subject then was shown a photo of a friend, and sure enough, the pal did not register any big spikes of activity.

There were no significant differences between men and women in the experiment though the ladies were far more eager to participate than the gents.

The two doctors placed ads and distributed posters to recruit their volunteers, who were required to be "head over heels in love." They were "inundated" by women, and eventually chose 11 women and six men as test subjects.

The researchers, who also have studied the workings of artistic brains, presented their findings at a meeting of neurobiologists. They may have interesting plans for their material, though.

"I'm convinced that we can use it as a test for love," Dr. Bartels said. "However, it's rather an expensive one."

Of course, love has fascinated a few other academes over the years.

More than 20 years ago, psychologist Elaine Hatfield queried the young and restless at three universities to discover that most fretted their "real" love might be mere infatuation.

Yale University researcher Robert Sternberg probed the very "psychology of love" and came up with a half-dozen varieties of the experience. Still another researcher found that people eased, rather than fell, into love, mostly because they were terrified of the prospect of admitting they cared.

Clinical psychologists Carl Hundy and Susan Vonderheide, meanwhile, have identified all sorts of alarming lovelorn states, including "romantic anxiety," "insecure love" and "jealous obsession."

And love is a veritable cottage industry in the pop-psychology world, which revolves around permutations of those who pursue or are pursued.

The new English study, though, is the first to objectively chart the real effects of romance on the brain, through magnetic resonance imaging in this case.

"These parts of the brain are also the parts which are active in euphoric states generated by exogenous substances such as cocaine," noted research partner Dr. Zeki. "Romantic love is to for many people, at any rate, intoxicating."

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