What does it mean to fall in love?
“Falling in love is an experience that involves very intense affective and cognitive changes including euphoria and overwhelming joy, increased arousal and energy, emotional dependency on the partner, craving for emotional union with the beloved, and obsessional thoughts about and focused attentino on the special other.” (Steenbergen et al., 2014, p. 3).
But how does being in love affect our cognitive functions? New research by Steenbergen and colleagues (2014) examined the link between passionate love and cognitive control (=executive functions) in a sample of 51 students who had recently become involved in a romantic relationship.
The authors conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants were instructed to perform the Stroop test as well as the Flanker task (two cognitive tests that measure the ability to exert cognitive control).
Why do we want to measure cognitive control? Impaired cognitive control may influence many aspects of a person’s cognitive functions such as attention, memory, language comprehension and emotional processing. The concentration for daily tasks like study and work may actually be impaired, the authors state.
The intensity of passionate love was found to correlate with less cognitive control. Due to the correlational research design, it is not possible to determine whether passionate love is the cause of the effect of impaired control. We only know that there is an association.
How come being in love is associated with reduced cognitive control, and consequently less self-control? The authors provide a possible explanation:
“… it could be that in the early stage of forming a relationship reduced self-control might have beneficial effects, e.g. it may expand the self-concept which allows incorporating the other in one’s cognitive system ” (p. 12).