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Are We Designed to Fall Out of Love?

Mar 26, 2015 03:57 PM EDT
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As humans, and especially for women, we love the idea of romantic relationships and finding "the one." But new surprising research says that we are actually designed to fall out of love and move on to new relationships.

"Our review of the literature suggests we have a mechanism in our brains designed by natural selection to pull us through a very tumultuous time in our lives," researcher Brian Boutwell from Saint Louis University said in a statement. "It suggests people will recover; the pain will go away with time. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel."

Boutwell and his colleagues examined the process of falling out of love and breaking up - which they call primary mate ejection - and moving on to develop a new romantic relationship, or secondary mate ejection.

But falling in and out of love is a two-way street. Men and women might break up for different reasons, researchers say. For example, men are more likely to end a relationship because a woman cheated on them. That's because for evolutionary reasons, men are hardwired to try and avoid raising children that aren't genetically their own.

"Men are particularly sensitive to sexual infidelity between their partner and someone else," Boutwell explained. "That's not to say women don't get jealous, they certainly do, but it's especially acute for men regarding sexual infidelity."

As for women, they may be more likely to break up if her partner has been emotionally unfaithful because natural selection has designed mate ejection in females to avoid the loss of resources - such as help in raising a child and physical protection - that their mates provide.

So how can researchers determine that humans are hardwired to fall in and out of love? They compare it to being addicted to drugs like cocaine.

"Think of it as that initial feeling of falling in love, when you want to constantly be around the other person, almost in an addictive way," Boutwell said.

Functional MRIs showed an increase in neuronal activity in the parts of the brain - the pleasure areas - that also become active with cocaine use. So the research team studied the brains of former cocaine addicts to try to predict how the brains of those who are breaking a relationship habit might look. They found that in comparison to the brains of active cocaine users, former abusers had a larger volume of gray matter in various brain regions.

"We might argue that different regions of the brain act in a way that once that addiction has been severed, then help to facilitate a person moving on and finding a new partner," Boutwell explained. "A person might initially pursue their old mate - in an attempt to win back their affection. However, if pursuit is indeed fruitless, then the brains of individuals may act to correct certain emotions and behaviors, paving the way for people to become attracted to new mates and form new relationships."

While this research is fascinating, more studies are needed to lend credibility to the theory.

The results were published in the journal Review of General Psychology.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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