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In the News

Psychology In The News | Love and the Brain

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

19th February 2024

We've all heard the expression that love is blind. It conjures images of starry-eyed lovers oblivious to the flaws and faults in their partners, or of people so spellbound by affection that they ignore all reason. Newly published research suggests that being in love literally ‘scrambles’ the brain and impacts the way we think and behave.

Falling in love is known to trigger a surge of oxytocin, the "love hormone" which floods the brain and bloodstream, generating the blissful highs of early romance. However, research into romantic love is still in its infancy, with relatively little known about how love changes our behaviour and thought processes.

To explore the impact love has on our behaviour, researchers investigated the link between the brain’s Behavioural Activation System (BAS) and love. The BAS is a set of brain structures (including the striatum, the ventral tegmental area and the prefrontal cortex) that regulate goal-directed behaviour. The BAS motivates us by releasing dopamine in response to potential rewards. Dopamine encourages us to learn associations between behaviours and this dopamine release, therefore over time, we learn to repeat actions that provide us with this reward.

Researchers hypothesised that the BAS and intensity of romantic love would be positively correlated, helping to explain why people whom we have fallen in love with take on such huge importance in our lives.

In this study, 1556 participants aged 18-25 were identified as being in love following their completion of the Romantic Love Survey. All participants had been in love for less than 2 years.

In the first part of the study, the researchers adapted an existing version of a questionnaire designed to measure the BAS to tailor the questions towards measuring sensitivity towards a loved one. For example, an original question on the BAS scale was ‘When I see an opportunity for something I like, I get excited right away’, this was adapted to be ‘When I see an opportunity to spend time with my partner, I get excited right away’ Responses were scored on a four-point scale (1 = very true for me; 4 = very false for me).

In the second part of the study, researchers measured the intensity of romantic love using the Passionate Love Scale, this included questions such as: ‘What percentage of your waking hours do you spend thinking about the person you love?’

The scores from the adapted BAS scale and the Passionate Love Scale were then correlated together. A significant positive correlation was found between the scores on the two scales. If we go back to the biology behind these scales, the reason that loved ones take on special importance is due to the effects of oxytocin (released when we fall in love) combining with dopamine (released when we perform a goal-related behaviour). Love activates the pathways in the brain which are associated with dopamine release and leads to behavioural changes. This exciting study is the first of its kind to investigate the link between love and behavioural changes. The next stage of this research will involve exploring the different approaches that men and women have towards love.


  1. What limitations might the sample involved in this study represent?
  2. How could the researchers assess the reliability of the adapted BAS scale?
  3. What level of measurement does the adapted BAS scale use?
  4. What type of data is collected by the adapted BAS scale?
  5. What limitations could self-report measures have in this study?

CHALLENGE: How could we triangulate (check using another method) the findings of this study using brain imaging techniques? Think about which technique would offer us the highest spatial resolution.


  1. Bode A, Kavanagh P S (2023) Romantic Love and Behavioral Activation System Sensitivity to a Loved One. Behavioral Sciences, 13 (11): 921

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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