Romantic Rejection Is Like Cocaine Addiction?

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Researchers are understandably fascinated with the empirical qualities of romantic relationships. Some dissect love songs and mood music to confirm whether they facilitate "amorous advances" (answer: yes), others investigate rom-coms to find out they can damage a healthy relationship, and still others note that Valentine's Day gift-giving is spurred mostly by a sense of "obligation."

There are also those, of course, who look at the messy aftermath. A new study headed by Dr. Arthur Aron at Stony Brook University investigates the neurological science of a break-up, finding that the anguish of a disintegrating relationship  "may be linked to activation of parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings." Which, curiously, are also the "elements that are very much like craving for cocaine."

Dr. Aron continues:

"This brain imaging study of individuals who were still 'in love' with their rejecter supplies further evidence that the passion of 'romantic love' is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion" the researchers concluded, noting that brain imaging showed some similarities between romantic rejection and cocaine craving. "The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that romantic love is a specific form of addiction."

Fortunately, there is a silver lining for aching participants (presuming they don't watch "destructive" romantic comedies):

The study also provided some evidence that "time heals all wounds." Researchers found that as time passed, an area of the brain associated with attachment -- the right ventral putamen/pallidum area -- showed less activity when the participants viewed photographs of their former partners.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.