According to functional MRI scanners, love isn’t an emotion it is activation of the reward center (it’s all about the forebrain, baby). And new love (the first 7 months to be precise) produces a similar chemical response to opioids.

I suppose it’s not a surprise, after all poets and song writers have described the euphoria and obsession of love for centuries. Throw can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think straight into the mix and I could be describing someone in love or someone addicted to narcotics. In fact, new love is so like an opiate that it reduces moderate pain in an experimental setting by 44%. By 7 months other parts of the brain make more contributions to the love experience. Reward centers are still involved, but it’s less druggy. I guess one could say one regains a little more control of one’s faculties.

Knowing that early love is like a drug helps to explain a lot of early relationship mistakes. Everything is Awesome! Wonderful! Amazing! It’s easy to do something that seems like a good idea, say move in or start to make long term plans, when life seems so grand. Shit, everything seems so great, even volunteering for a study where they put really hot things on your skin to see how effective love is at reducing thermal pain (one of the investigators told me it was the easiest study he ever recruited for!). The point is, if the bloom comes off the rose and you’ve made commitments, you could easily end up waking up next to someone at 5 months and wonder, ‘What the fuck have I done?”

I’m the first to admit this valuable piece of information could have served me well. If I’d have known I could be high for up to 7 months, I would never have agreed to move in with my now ex-husband before that critical juncture. Unfortunately, once the sofa was arranged and my dopamine depleted (i.e. things started to not seem so lovely), I assumed the relationship could be fixed because it had been “so good,” when really I should have said, “Well, that was fun and it’s a bitch we moved in, but I wasn’t in my right mind.”

How do researchers find people in love? I mean, lots of people say they’re in love, but their actions say otherwise. Well, there is a validated scale that I am pleased to announce I discovered during my late night skulking on PubMed: the Passionate Love Scale (PLS).

At first blush I admit it sounds a tad Dr. Phil-ish or like a quiz one might find in the back of Teen Cosmo. The 15-question short version of the PLS (yes, there is a 30-question long version) was first reported by Hatfield & Sprecher in 1986 in, ahem, the Journal of Adolescence. Although the PLS is not just a puppy love scale, as it has also been validated in adult populations. It is also the scale used in these neurophysiology of love studies.

The PLS can be used for shorter-term love (less than 7 months) and is also valid for people who say they are still in love after a few years (confirmed by MRI, of course). The score drops a little over time, but not that much. Something to think about before you haul a couch up 3 flights of stairs.

Here’s Hatfield & Sprecher’s Passion Love Scale in case you are interested. Answer the questions thinking about your partner and score yourself for each question on a scale of 1-9 (9 being the most and 1 being the least), add them up and then check your passion.

And if you care to log your results in my handy quiz master, it would be most appreciated. Don’t worry, it’s completely anonymous. I’m just genuinely curious.

What do you think? Does the Passion Love Scale seem valid to you?

Join the Conversation


  1. Great article! Love like an opiate, not an emotion. Love is changes to the neurological (electrical) and biochemical pathways that would solve many conditions if we understood better. Like puppy love comment. I remember as a young boy the tingling sensation that you loved when someone was you cared about told a story, read a book or joked or laughed. Would have liked to see the neurons lighting up and chemical reactions going on!

  2. Singleton here. Loved the article, but when attempting to fill out the quiz, my mind keeps filling that space with “chocolate”.

    I don’t even like chocolate! What does that say?

    Hope you gather enough N’s to make your experiment valid!

  3. 96 or so. We’ve been together 16 years now. A couple of my lowest rankings are due to a kind of pragmatism. I wouldn’t be jealous if I thought she was falling in love with someone else. I don’t see love, or even being in love as a zero sum… If she has 1000 units of being in love and splits them, I’m not getting less than my original 1000 because being happy and in love, she now has 2000 units to share. Lest you think I’m being starry eyed, she did fall in love, and what drove them apart (besides the other person’s mental disorder)) was their jealousy of me, and desire to have 100% of my love’s time, despite knowing before hand that I, and our kids, would come if not first, at least equal. Another low score was depression if our relationship has trouble… I know that this too shall pass. I might get depressed if money, kids or illness means my sex life (what’s that again?) is put on hold, but that doesn’t define or hold up our relationship. So as a measure for actual mature adults (granted a rarity) it doesn’t quite fit. Lack of jealousy is also a sign of total trust in your mate, and security in your place in their life. I do get jealous of time spent with others, but that has nothing to do with love, it has to do with wanting more hours in a day to be together. But yeah, I hit the scale where I would have guessed. Now to do it for hubby, who is my psuedo ex. I got 68, or low average. If I was normal in the jealousy department I’d score higher. Gods, if my relationship with my hubby of 25 years (who is living with his new family, but we do a lot of stuff together) is average, I feel sorry for the average person out there.

  4. Dr. Jen, love this post, love your site. check out–we’d love to know your thoughts on what we’re working on and if you agree that you will find our work interesting. hope to hear from you.

  5. Scored a 102, and we’ve been together for 3 years +. I guess I have an inherent distrust for these sorts of expanded Likert scales, as I feel people conciously or unconsciously try to game them. I felt myself trying to make sure that the score would be high enough, given that I love my boyfriend and intend to marry him. Plus, how does one really discern between a 6 and a 7 for how much passion/jealousy/love one feels for another? I suppose it could be useful for examining large differences or looking at above 5 vs. below 5 people, but not so useful for finding smaller meaningful differences.
    But I love the message of assuming you are not in your right mind for at least 7 months. This is a message more late teens/ twenty-somethings could stand to hear.

  6. We just got together in September, so it’s still really high. But a lot of the things that feed into it being high aren’t represented on here. What I mean is this: I’ve had strong chemistry with someone that was just that–chemistry. Nothing else. And I could have answered everything off the charts. But there are relationships that are hollow and ones that are whole. Sexual chemistry and emotional love feel different, but both are passionate. It’s a different edge.

    It also might just be a certain personality type, but what about passionate and melodramatic relationships? You know, the ones with the fantastic sex and throwing things. Do the ones that are crazy in the beginning still work as opiates? Heroin is a helluva drug.

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