The neurological difference between love and lust has been identified by scientists for the first time.
Lust triggers activity in the part of the brain wish controls pleasure, but as all romantics know, love activates the region which gives that pleasure meaning.
Scans of the brain show that love and sex activate different but related parts of the striatum, which controls a number of cognitive processes including emotion and addiction.
Romantic: Scientists have for the first time discovered the neurological footprint of love and how it differs from mere lust
The international study by a team of experts is the first to draw an exact map of urges that have mystified scientists for decades.
Professor Jim Pfaus, a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal, said: 'No-one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation.
'We didn’t know what to expect - the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain.'
Professor Pfaus and colleagues in the U.S. and Switzerland analysed 20 previous studies that examined brain activity while subjects engaged in tasks such as viewing erotic pictures or looking at photographs of their partners.
By pooling data from 20 previous studies that scanned brain activity as subjects viewed erotic pictures or looked at photographs of their partners they were able to form a complete map of love and lust in the brain.
They found two structures in particular - the insula and the striatum - are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love.
The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe while the striatum is located nearby inside the forebrain.
Somewhat surprisingly the part of the striatum involved in love is also associated with drug addiction - but there is good reason for this.
Professor Pfaus said: 'Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.'
'Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs'
While love may be a habit it’s not necessarily a bad one. Love activates different pathways in the brain that are involved in monogamy and in pair bonding.
Some areas in the brain are actually less active when a person feels love than when they feel desire.
Professor Pfaus said: 'While sexual desire has a very specific goal love is more abstract and complex - so it’s less dependent on the physical presence someone else.'
He said cognitive neuroscience has given researchers a deep understanding of where intelligence and problem solving sit in the brain but there is still a lot to discover when it comes to love.
He added: 'I see this paper as a cornerstone in what I hope will turn into more studies in human social neuroscience that can give us an idea of where love is in the brain.'
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