The study was based on 15 volunteer couples from Stanford who were in the first stages of new and passionate love. As a control, each person submitted pictures of their partner, along with a picture of an equally attractive platonic acquaintance. The subjects were then shown the pictures in succession while in an fMRI scanner. As an added control, the volunteer students also had to complete a mental task (thinking of sports that didn’t involve using a ball). While these stimuli were being applied, a heated device held in one hand would cause them mild pain.
After comparing the results of the fMRI, Mackey found that looking at a loved one allowed the subjects to withstand more pain either of the other two controls, and that love activated different parts of the brain than the normal analgesic pathways.
Mackey explained, “Love was engaging our very deep, old and primitive reptilian system that involves basic needs, wants and cravings. We found a nice link between the reward system and the pain modulating system, suggesting that love does really work in reducing pain.”
More details in the full article: http://healthland.time.com/