Throughout the ages, love has been defined as a motivated and goal-directed mechanism with explicit and implicit mechanisms. Recent evidence demonstrated that the explicit representation of love recruits subcorticocortical pathways mediating reward, emotion, and motivation systems. However, the neural basis of the implicit (unconscious) representation of love remains unknown. To assess this question, we combined event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a behavioral subliminal priming paradigm embedded in a lexical decision task. In this task, the name of either a beloved partner, a neutral friend, or a passionate hobby was subliminally presented before a target stimulus (word, nonword, or blank), and participants were required to decide if the target was a word or not. Behavioral results showed that subliminal presentation of either a beloved's name (love prime) or a passion descriptor (passion prime) enhanced reaction times in a similar fashion. Subliminal presentation of a friend's name (friend prime) did not show any beneficial effects. Functional results showed that subliminal priming with a beloved's name (as opposed to either a friend's name or a passion descriptor) specifically recruited brain areas involved in abstract representations of others and the self, in addition to motivation circuits shared with other sources of passion. More precisely, love primes recruited the fusiform and angular gyri. Our findings suggest that love, as a subliminal prime, involves a specific neural network that surpasses a dopaminergic-motivation system.

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