Executive control and faithfulness: only long-term romantic relationships require prefrontal control

Abstract

Individuals in the early stages of a romantic relationship generally express intense passionate love toward their partners. This observation allows us to hypothesize that the regulation of interest in extra-pair relationships by executive control, which is supported by the function of the prefrontal cortex, is less required in individuals in the early stages of a relationship than it is in those who are in a long-term relationship. To test this hypothesis, we asked male participants in romantic relationships to perform a go/no-go task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is a well-validated task that can measure right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) activity implicated in executive control. Subsequently, the participants engaged in a date-rating task in which they rated how much they wanted to date unfamiliar females. We found that individuals with higher right VLPFC activity better regulated their interest in dates with unfamiliar females. Importantly, this relationship was found only in individuals with long-term partners, but not in those with short-term partners, indicating that the active regulation of interest in extra-pair relationships is required only in individuals in a long-term relationship. Our findings extend previous findings on executive control in the maintenance of monogamous relationships by highlighting the role of the VLPFC, which varies according to the stage of the romantic relationship.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Maki Terao for her assistance in data collection. This study was conducted using the MRI scanner and related facilities of the Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University. This work was partly supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP17J01776 and the ImPACT Program of the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (Cabinet Office, Government of Japan). Nobuhito Abe was supported by the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education.

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Correspondence to Ryuhei Ueda.

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Ueda, R., Yanagisawa, K., Ashida, H. et al. Executive control and faithfulness: only long-term romantic relationships require prefrontal control. Exp Brain Res 236, 821–828 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-018-5181-y

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Keywords

  • Monogamy
  • fMRI
  • Self-control
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Romantic relationship