How Does the Brain in Love Differ Around the World?

We’ve known for some time that scans of the brain can show unique patterns of activity when the subject is in love. Regions light up similar to a cocaine addict who is using cocaine. But 2010 was the first time researchers expanded their study outside of Western cultures. How do brain scans of people in love differ around the world?

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York wanted to assess patterns of brain scans from two countries in which they thought views of love were least similar. They compared American and Chinese scans, because cultural interpretations of love in the two countries can be quite different. For example, they report that in surveys, individuals from China describe romantic love in less positive terms than do Americans. Chinese people have more arranged marriages, and some view romantic love as getting in the way of family decisions. Chinese surveys included a higher proportion of negative words associated with love, such as “anxious”, “scary”, and “depressing”.

Because of these differences in reported perceptions of love, researchers wondered if the brain scans of individuals in love might show significant differences. They did not. It turns out love is universal when it comes to neurological reactions. The results were published in the New York Times.

Although cultural differences may exist in how love is expressed, the brain’s neurological reaction to romantic love remains the same. Brain scans from Americans and Chinese individuals lit up in the same manner, regardless of the country of origin.

I know from my surveys that I have many readers from across Asia, as well as in other parts of the world. Cultural differences regarding love and marriage certainly exist. However, I think it’s rather cool that we know we are all affected by love in the same biological way. I think it means we are more similar than we are different. It’s one of the reasons why a global community like this blog can be effective, supportive, and far-reaching. I encourage you to participate in discussions in different posts to offer the unique perspectives from where you live in the U.S. or around the world.

Please leave a short comment (with or without your name) saying hello from your part of the country or world.

Photo Credit: ©Olaru Radian-Alexandru/

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