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Love on the Brain

Scientists peeking inside our brains and psyches have more clues than ever about the biology of love -- why we're attracted, why we fall so hard, and what makes us stay.
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The Biology of Love: From Butterflies to Comfortable continued...

Still, she says, "chemistry" can persist. "We have started a new study, of those in long-term marriages," she says. Only five people have undergone the fMRI imaging so far, she tells WebMD, but it looks promising for those who yearn for long-term chemistry. "They still show activity in some brain regions associated with romantic love and also with some associated with attachment," Fisher says.

Two other hormones -- oxytocin and vasopressin -- may come into play once you are settling into a more comfortable relationship. At least it's true in small rodents called prairie voles, according to Sue Carter, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has studied the monogamous animals for decades. Both hormones seem important in the animals' attachments to one other vole, she says.

Oxytocin, sometimes called the hormone of love, is plentiful in women in labor and in lactating women and is released by men and women during orgasm. Some human studies have suggested it plays a role in maintaining interpersonal relationships. Vasopressin is released by the pituitary gland.

In voles, at least, Carter says, the hormones seem to play a role in social bonding, and perhaps in reducing fear, making them feel less anxious. So that may play a role in the voles' decision to mate with just one other vole.

The Biology of Love: Making it Last

Avoiding boredom is crucial for the health of a relationship, Aron tells WebMD. In a study, he randomly assigned couples to participate in activities both considered highly exciting but moderately pleasant or highly pleasant but moderately exciting.

"The group who did highly exciting but only moderately pleasant activities had a much bigger increase in marital satisfaction," he says. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Meanwhile, another expert is tracking the long-term effect of picking a partner with a different major histocompatibility complex. Martie Haselton, PhD, a psychologist and researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, is working with the web site eharmony.com to track newlyweds, noting the effect of different MHC patterns between partners.

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What physical changes do you experience when in love?