A joint project carried out by the University of Geneva, Concordia University, West Virginia University and Syracuse University, found that different parts of a brain region called the striatum are activated depending on whether a person is experiencing love or lust.
"Love and lust display differences, but also noticeable similarities in the brain," said Stephanie Cacioppo from the University of Geneva.
Sexual desire was found to activate the same part of the striatum that is activated by things that are “inherently pleasurable” such as food and sex, while love activated a different part that is associated with placing value on pleasurable things.
“Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded,” researcher Jim Pfaus said in a statement. “It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs."
The researchers shared data collected from 20 different studies in which they tested the reactions of people who looked at erotic photographs as well as pictures of their life partners.
This is the first time that researchers have ever compared the brain activation caused by these two different emotions.
“We didn't know what to expect – the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain," Pfaus said.