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Psychiatry Res. 2009 May 15;172(2):93-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2008.11.003. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

The neural basis of unconditional love.

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Centre de Recherche en Neuropsychologie et Cognition (CERNEC), Département de Psychologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3J7.


Functional neuroimaging studies have shown that romantic love and maternal love are mediated by regions specific to each, as well as overlapping regions in the brain's reward system. Nothing is known yet regarding the neural underpinnings of unconditional love. The main goal of this functional magnetic resonance imaging study was to identify the brain regions supporting this form of love. Participants were scanned during a control condition and an experimental condition. In the control condition, participants were instructed to simply look at a series of pictures depicting individuals with intellectual disabilities. In the experimental condition, participants were instructed to feel unconditional love towards the individuals depicted in a series of similar pictures. Significant loci of activation were found, in the experimental condition compared with the control condition, in the middle insula, superior parietal lobule, right periaqueductal gray, right globus pallidus (medial), right caudate nucleus (dorsal head), left ventral tegmental area and left rostro-dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. These results suggest that unconditional love is mediated by a distinct neural network relative to that mediating other emotions. This network contains cerebral structures known to be involved in romantic love or maternal love. Some of these structures represent key components of the brain's reward system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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