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A recent study suggests that biological changes in the brain could aid in moving on from a past romantic partner.
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A recent study suggests that biological changes in the brain could aid in moving on from a past romantic partner.

Ending a relationship can be difficult, but the brain may have a way to assist in moving on from a former partner.

According to studies on prairie voles, these monogamous rodents receive a rush of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in their brains when searching for and reuniting with their mate. However, this surge diminishes after a prolonged period of separation.

Dr. Zoe Donaldson, a behavioral neuroscientist from CU Boulder and senior author of the study, explains that we often refer to it as “getting over a breakup” because these voles are capable of forming a new bond after experiencing changes in dopamine levels, which is not possible while the original bond is still intact.

In their publication in Current Biology, the researchers detail their process of conducting a set of trials where voles were required to press levers in order to reach either their partner or a foreign vole behind a transparent door.

The researchers discovered that voles experienced a higher level of dopamine release in their brain when pressing levers and opening doors to meet their partner compared to when interacting with a new vole. Additionally, they spent more time huddling with their partner during these interactions and had a larger increase in dopamine levels.

Donaldson stated that the distinction is linked to the awareness of reuniting with a partner, indicating that it is more satisfying to reunite with a partner than to spend time with an unfamiliar vole.

After four weeks of separating pairs of voles, the variations in dopamine levels were no longer observed. This is a significant period in the lifespan of rodents. The differences in huddling behavior also lessened.

According to the researchers, the results indicate a decrease in the value of the relationship between vole pairs, rather than a loss of memory towards each other.

According to Donaldson, if further research proves that these findings also apply to humans, the study could have various consequences.

She stated that if the dopamine signal is vital for solidifying and sustaining human connections, then actions that strengthen this signal have significant effects on relationship satisfaction.

According to Donaldson, the research may also apply to individuals who struggle to cope with the loss of a loved one.

The speaker stated that it is possible that individuals may have a partner dopamine signal that does not adjust after experiencing loss, causing a delay in their ability to process the loss. The main objective of the speaker’s research is to find ways to assist individuals with prolonged grief disorder by understanding the biological changes that aid in coping with loss and returning to a normal life.

Source: theguardian.com