The Neurobiological Basis of Love: A Meta-Analysis of Human Functional Neuroimaging Studies of Maternal and Passionate Love

Hsuan Chu Shih, Mu En Kuo, Changwei W. Wu, Yi Ping Chao, Hsu Wen Huang, Chih Mao Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Maternal and passionate love are both crucial for reproduction and involve attachment behaviors with high rewards. Neurobiological studies of attachment in animal and human neuroimag-ing studies have suggested that the coordination of oxytocinergic and vasopressinergic pathways, coupled with the dopaminergic reward system, contribute to the formation and maintenance of maternal and passionate love. In the present study, we carried out a quantitative meta-analysis of human neuroimaging to identify common and dissociable neural substrates associated with maternal and passionate love, using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) approach. The ALE results showed significant activation of the brain regions in the left ventral tegmental area (VTA), right thalamus, left substantia nigra, and the left putamen for maternal love, but in the bilateral VTA for passionate love. The meta-analytic neuroimaging evidence suggests the greater involvement of cognitive–affective regulation in maternal attachment and the greater desire to combine liking and wanting in romantic love behaviors. The conjunction analysis highlights the functional convergence of the VTA across the two types of human love, indicating a shared neurobiological mechanism of maternal and passionate love with evolutionary roots. Our findings suggest that the processing of both maternal and passionate love involve the affective and motivational regulation associated with dopaminergic systems; our neuroimaging evidence supports the notion that maternal and passionate love share a common evolutionary origin and neurobiological basis in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number830
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • activation likelihood estimation (ALE)
  • human functional neuroimaging
  • maternal love
  • meta-analysis
  • passionate love
  • ventral tegmental area (VTA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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