Falling in love can be a pretty wild experience. People in new relationships feel euphoria, have loads of energy, and might even say they’re addicted to their partner.
All of this is linked to parts of the brain that researchers call the reward system. These appropriately named parts get triggered when we fall madly in love. And according to a recent research, being madly in love could literally take away the physical pain.
But hold on a second. What gave the researchers this idea to begin with? Well, it turns out that in studies involving animals, drugs that trigger the same parts of the brain help lower pain in a major way.
To see if being in love could have this surprising benefit, the researchers tracked down fifteen people in the first nine months of their relationship. The participants agreed to go through the decidedly unpleasant experience of being touched with a hot probe. While this was happening, they were either shown a picture of their partner, a picture of someone they knew, or did a word-association activity that was meant to distract them.
Sweetheart’s picture effect
Looking at a picture of a loved one does indeed reduce pain, the study showed. And we’re not talking a small amount of pain like say a bee sting or stubbing your toe. The iron was set at hot enough temperatures to cause moderate or high pain. In both cases, a sweetheart’s picture helped make the experience more bearable.
Just as the researchers suspected, the sight of a participant’s partner triggered the reward region of the brain. This, in turn, might lower the activity in other parts of the brain that are involved in feeling pain.
Why would being madly in love take away the pain? Feeling less pain when we do things that trigger the reward parts of the brain – like fall in love (or even just look at a picture of someone we love), eat a delicious meal, or have sex – might allow us to do these things, which are ultimately important, even under potentially harmful or unpleasant circumstances, suggest the researchers.
Reference: Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain: Involvement of Neural Systems. Published: October 13, 2010
Person/s in the picture is/are models.