According to functional MRI scanners, love isn’t an emotion it is activation of the reward center (it’s all about the forebrain, baby). And new love (the first 7 months to be precise) produces a similar chemical response to opioids.
I suppose it’s not a surprise, after all poets and song writers have described the euphoria and obsession of love for centuries. Throw can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think straight into the mix and I could be describing someone in love or someone addicted to narcotics. In fact, new love is so like an opiate that it reduces moderate pain in an experimental setting by 44%. By 7 months other parts of the brain make more contributions to the love experience. Reward centers are still involved, but it’s less druggy. I guess one could say one regains a little more control of one’s faculties.
Knowing that early love is like a drug helps to explain a lot of early relationship mistakes. Everything is Awesome! Wonderful! Amazing! It’s easy to do something that seems like a good idea, say move in or start to make long term plans, when life seems so grand. Shit, everything seems so great, even volunteering for a study where they put really hot things on your skin to see how effective love is at reducing thermal pain (one of the investigators told me it was the easiest study he ever recruited for!). The point is, if the bloom comes off the rose and you’ve made commitments, you could easily end up waking up next to someone at 5 months and wonder, ‘What the fuck have I done?”
I’m the first to admit this valuable piece of information could have served me well. If I’d have known I could be high for up to 7 months, I would never have agreed to move in with my now ex-husband before that critical juncture. Unfortunately, once the sofa was arranged and my dopamine depleted (i.e. things started to not seem so lovely), I assumed the relationship could be fixed because it had been “so good,” when really I should have said, “Well, that was fun and it’s a bitch we moved in, but I wasn’t in my right mind.”
How do researchers find people in love? I mean, lots of people say they’re in love, but their actions say otherwise. Well, there is a validated scale that I am pleased to announce I discovered during my late night skulking on PubMed: the Passionate Love Scale (PLS).
At first blush I admit it sounds a tad Dr. Phil-ish or like a quiz one might find in the back of Teen Cosmo. The 15-question short version of the PLS (yes, there is a 30-question long version) was first reported by Hatfield & Sprecher in 1986 in, ahem, the Journal of Adolescence. Although the PLS is not just a puppy love scale, as it has also been validated in adult populations. It is also the scale used in these neurophysiology of love studies.
The PLS can be used for shorter-term love (less than 7 months) and is also valid for people who say they are still in love after a few years (confirmed by MRI, of course). The score drops a little over time, but not that much. Something to think about before you haul a couch up 3 flights of stairs.
Here’s Hatfield & Sprecher’s Passion Love Scale in case you are interested. Answer the questions thinking about your partner and score yourself for each question on a scale of 1-9 (9 being the most and 1 being the least), add them up and then check your passion.
And if you care to log your results in my handy quiz master, it would be most appreciated. Don’t worry, it’s completely anonymous. I’m just genuinely curious.
What do you think? Does the Passion Love Scale seem valid to you?