Maybe love is a drug after all. Researchers rounded up fifteen students still in the throes of passionate romance (dating for 9 months or less) to determine if thinking about a loved one could lessen physical pain. The lovers placed their hands on a small square block, which heated up to cause zero, moderate, or severe pain. Each time, the students were given one of three tasks: look at a photo of their partner, look at a photo of an equally attractive acquaintance, or perform a meaningless distraction task, such as thinking about sports. Seeing the lover's face and distracting themselves decreased pain to roughly the same degree (12% to 13% for severe pain, 36% to 45% for moderate), but they activated different parts of the brain, fMRI scans later revealed. Unlike distraction, looking at the lover's photo activated the reward sections of the brain, such as the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens (red), the researchers report  today in PLoS ONE. Of course, pain relief could also be a reward in itself.
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