Exemplar Study: Must Be Love on the Brain (Within-Subjects/Repeated-Measures Design)

This research focused on the brain functioning of people in love. Participants who rated themselves as being intensely in love, viewed a photo of their beloved, did a distracter task, and then viewed a photo of a neutral acquaintance while researchers took functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI). Each participant repeated the procedure six times. When participants looked at pictures of their beloved, the fMRI indicated systematic activation of particular parts of the brain. Intense romantic love is connected with reward regions of the brain, as well as the motivation system needed to acquire rewards.

Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotional systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 94, 327-337. doi:10.1152/jn.00838.2004

Discussion Starters:
• What are the design elements (IV, DV) and operational definitions?
• What are the potential confounds?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of the study design?
• What are the advantages and disadvantages of using fMRI in psychological research?
• Is studying brain functioning necessary for understanding human behavior?
• What other human experiences would benefit from research using fMRI?
• Why might the use of distracting tasks between the exposures to photos be important? Is it necessary?

In-class Activities:
• How researchers operationally define variables determines the results of a study. Ask the class for other ways the researchers could have elicited the feelings of romantic love in this research (i.e., find a new way to operationally define it). In small groups, have them develop a new way to induce the feelings of romantic love in participants. Be sure to include a control group as well. Suggestions in case students get stuck: videos; audio recordings; touch; smell.
• Extend this activity by having each group generate a study to test the idea that reward is involved in feeling of romantic love without their using an fMRI as the dependent variable.

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Just for Fun…