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Scientists carry out in a laboratory the most complete study on the physiological mechanisms caused by love

Spanish version:

Emotional tachycardia’ (a deceleration in heart rate followed by a quick acceleration); activation of the zygomaticus, the facial muscle responsible for allowing us to smile; or an increase in brain activity upon seeing the image of a loved one are some of the patterns that researchers from the University of Granada’s Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Centre (CIMCYC) have identified

Scientists from the University of Granada (UGR) who belong to the Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Centre (Centro de Investigación Mente, Cerebro y Comportamiento, CIMYC) conducted the most complete study to date on the physiological mechanisms that love causes in people, measuring these effects at a central (that is, in the brain) and peripheral (regarding the heart, muscles and perspiration) level.

Their work determined that when a person is in love and sees a picture of the face of their loved one, what the UGR scientists called «emotional tachycardia» takes place, in which the heart experiences an initial deceleration (the heart rate lowers for a few seconds) and later accelerates rapidly. This also occurs when seeing pictures of a loved family member, such as a mother or father.

Additionally, the sight of the loved one’s face increases perspiration or the electrical conductivity of the skin from the first 1.5 seconds and on, causing activation in the zygomaticus facial muscle, which is responsible for smiling. This last pattern took place to a greater extent in women than in men, most likely because of cultural reasons, as women more easily express their emotions than men.

Lastly, at a central level, the brain activity that takes place is much greater when we see pictures of the people we love than of those we do not know.

The researchers that conducted this work belong to the Human Psychophysiology and Health Laboratory of the CIMCYC and, since 2010, have been analyzing the physiological patterns produced by positive emotions in subjects.

Loved ones’ faces

In order to carry out this study, the scientists worked with a sample of students from the UGR School of Psychology, men and women between the ages of 20 and 29. The subjects were asked to take a black and white picture of a certain size of their mothers and fathers, as well as their significant others, if they were in a relationship of at least six months.

The CIMCYC researchers, Jaime Vila Castellar and Pedro Guerra Muñoz, explained that the pictures, which were projected randomly for four seconds during the experiment, were to be neutral, without happy or sad facial expressions that could interfere with the participants’ reaction.

Subsequently, the scientists conducted an experiment with all the participants, in which they placed sensors on the subjects’ faces, heads and hands and monitored their central and peripheral physiological activity, while these subjects were shown pictures of five faces: two of loved ones, two of people they did not know and one of a baby (as a control group).

This study of the physiological patterns of love carried out by the UGR scientists also revealed that this positive emotion guards against stress. Namely, when the participants were looking at pictures of loved ones, such as a father, mother or significant other, when given a scare through a loud noise emitted through headphones, the jolt response was much lower than when this occurred without looking at the picture.

Bibliographical References:

Guerra, P., Campagnoli, R. R., Vico, C., Volchan, E., Anllo-Vento, L., & Vila, J. (2011). Filial versus romantic love: contributions from peripheral and central electrophysiology. Biological psychology88(2), 196-203.

Guerra, P., Sánchez-Adam, A., Anllo-Vento, L., Ramírez, I., & Vila, J. (2012). Viewing loved faces inhibits defense reactions: a health-promotion mechanism?.PloS one7(7), e41631.

Guerra, P., Vico, C., Campagnoli, R., Sánchez, A., Anllo-Vento, L., & Vila, J. (2012). Affective processing of loved familiar faces: integrating central and peripheral electrophysiological measures. International Journal of Psychophysiology85(1), 79-87.

Sánchez-Adam, A. (2013). Mecanismos corticales y periféricos del procesamiento afectivo de caras familiares: Estudio de la emoción asociada a la identidad (Tesis Doctoral, Universidad de Granada).

Vico Fuillerat, C. (2016). Mecanismos corticales y periféricos del procesamiento afectivo de caras: emociones positivas (Tesis Doctoral, Universidad de Granada).

Vico, C., Guerra, P., Robles, H., Vila, J., & Anllo-Vento, L. (2010). Affective processing of loved faces: contributions from peripheral and central electrophysiology. Neuropsychologia48(10), 2894-2902.

enamoramiento1-600x4001. UGR researchers Pedro Guerra Muñoz y Jaime Vila Castellar, authors of this study



Pedro Guerra Muñoz
Departamento de Personalidad, Evaluación y Tratamiento Psicológico de la UGR

Jaime Vila Castellar
Departamento de Personalidad, Evaluación y Tratamiento Psicológico de la UGR