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Longing is a brain trick to keep couples together

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A new study from the University of Colorado found the very first neuronal evidence that love could grow with distance.

The American research team examined brain scans of voles that were meanwhile separated from their partners. They discovered how the mice reward center fired when they longed for their life partners.

The study findings could help treat depression and autism and explain why it is so difficult to maintain social distance.

A study by the University of Colorado has now found the first neuronal evidence that longing is important for long-term relationships. And very much so: The longing for a partner is therefore at least as important as the time we are with him. That’s what neurologist Zoe Donaldson and her research team found out.

“Our study is the first to show the potential neural basis for motivation to reunite,” said Donaldson. According to the research results, longing could lay the basis for long relationships: “In order to maintain relationships in the long term, there has to be a certain motivation to be with this person when you are not with them,” says Donaldson.

Voles, one of the few monogamous mammals, were examined

By observing the behavior and brain activity of the monogamous voles, the neurologists tried to better understand which brain regions stimulate instinct to form lasting bonds.

The brain scans of vole pairs were compared at three different times: on the first date, three days after they had mated, and 20 days after they moved in together. The researchers also observed how the animals reacted to alien voles.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the reward system sends out certain impulses when the voles miss their partner.

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If the loving animals had been a couple for a long time, there was clearly activity in a certain cell cluster of the reward center in the rodent’s brain as soon as the voles were separated from their partner and ran towards them. The researchers suspect that these impulses could intensify the desire for the partner.

Is it so difficult for us to keep our distance?

While humans are not mice, the brains often function surprisingly similarly. The study could also explain in part why we find it difficult to lockdown and distance ourselves. The longer we are separated from the people who are important to us, the more our brains want to reunite.

“These negative feelings that so many of us are feeling right now can be the result of a mismatch: we have a neuronal signal that tells us that we feel better when we are with loved ones while lockdowns are taking place suggest that this need remains unfulfilled, ”said Donaldson. “It’s the emotional equivalent of not eating when we’re hungry.”

In fact, the findings could be used for positive things. For example, to develop therapies for people with autism, severe depression and other disorders. Because people with these diseases find it more difficult to develop such emotional connections.

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