Regional brain activity during early-stage intense romantic love predicted relationship outcomes after 40 months: an fMRI assessment

Neurosci Lett. 2012 Sep 20;526(1):33-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Aug 11.


Early-stage romantic love is associated with activation in reward and motivation systems of the brain. Can these localized activations, or others, predict long-term relationship stability? We contacted participants from a previous fMRI study of early-stage love by Xu et al. [34] after 40 months from initial assessments. We compared brain activation during the initial assessment at early-stage love for those who were still together at 40 months and those who were apart, and surveyed those still together about their relationship happiness and commitment at 40 months. Six participants who were still with their partners at 40 months (compared to six who had broken up) showed less activation during early-stage love in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, right subcallosal cingulate and right accumbens, regions implicated in long-term love and relationship satisfaction [1,2]. These regions of deactivation at the early stage of love were also negatively correlated with relationship happiness scores collected at 40 months. Other areas involved were the caudate tail, and temporal and parietal lobes. These data are preliminary evidence that neural responses in the early stages of romantic love can predict relationship stability and quality up to 40 months later in the relationship. The brain regions involved suggest that forebrain reward functions may be predictive for relationship stability, as well as regions involved in social evaluation, emotional regulation, and mood.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Love*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reward
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors