Thomas Ramey Watson

Brain scans might tell if your relationship will last

When you’re in the early stages of falling in love, you might hide it from friends and family. But you can’t hide it from neuroscientists. By charting brain activity with an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine, scientists can spot telltale regions of your brain glowing joyously when you look at a photograph of your beloved.

But new research suggests that neuroscientists can tell you much more than what you already know (that you’re madly in love). Like fortune-tellers who read brains instead of palms, they have begun to figure out how to determine the fate of your relationship by studying your brain activity alone. And armed with the knowledge of the brain responses they’re looking for, you too may be able to find clues in your own behavior as to whether you and your loved one will be happily married years from now, or bitterly separated and wondering why it all fell apart.

Not all in-love brains look alike. Several years ago, Xiaomeng Xu, now a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University School of Medicine, and her colleagues performed fMRI scans on 18 Chinese men and women who reported being in the early stages of romantic love. Though all the study participants showed clear signs of love — looking at the face of their beloved triggered a flurry of activity in the areas of their brains involved in reward and motivation — the researchers identified subtle differences between the individuals’ brain scans. When the team followed up with the study participants 18 months later to learn how their budding relationships had turned out, they found a surprisingly strong correlation between certain characteristics in the original brain scans and the participants’ relationship status a year and a half later. [13 Scientifically Proven Signs You’re in Love]

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