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J Sex Med. 2010 Nov;7(11):3541-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.01999.x. Epub 2010 Aug 30.

Neuroimaging of love: fMRI meta-analysis evidence toward new perspectives in sexual medicine.

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Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA.



Brain imaging is becoming a powerful tool in the study of human cerebral functions related to close personal relationships. Outside of subcortical structures traditionally thought to be involved in reward-related systems, a wide range of neuroimaging studies in relationship science indicate a prominent role for different cortical networks and cognitive factors. Thus, the field needs a better anatomical/network/whole-brain model to help translate scientific knowledge from lab bench to clinical models and ultimately to the patients suffering from disorders associated with love and couple relationships.


The aim of the present review is to provide a review across wide range of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to critically identify the cortical networks associated with passionate love, and to compare and contrast it with other types of love (such as maternal love and unconditional love for persons with intellectual disabilities).


Retrospective review of pertinent neuroimaging literature.


Review of published literature on fMRI studies of love illustrating brain regions associated with different forms of love.


Although all fMRI studies of love point to the subcortical dopaminergic reward-related brain systems (involving dopamine and oxytocin receptors) for motivating individuals in pair-bonding, the present meta-analysis newly demonstrated that different types of love involve distinct cerebral networks, including those for higher cognitive functions such as social cognition and bodily self-representation.


These metaresults provide the first stages of a global neuroanatomical model of cortical networks involved in emotions related to different aspects of love. Developing this model in future studies should be helpful for advancing clinical approaches helpful in sexual medicine and couple therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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