Being in love is said to have a powerful effect on our body, leading to physical reactions like dilated pupils to butterflies in your stomach. You'll like be aware of and feel these physical sensations, but there are another less obvious organ that also experiences a change when you see the person you’re in love with: the brain. Jenna Bush Hager, co-host of Hoda & Jenna on Today, recently took an exam to find out what being in love does to her brain. The journalist met with Sandra Langeslag, Ph.D., an associate professor in psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, to see what happens.
To kick off the experiment, the psychology expert helped Jenna put on an electrode cap for an electroencephalogram (EEG), which refers to brainwave technology that monitors and measures electrical activity in the brain. The goal was to measure Jenna’s response to a variety of images: a complete stranger, Henry Hager (her husband of 15 years), her close friend Al Roker, and Hollywood Hager (her cat). “I’m just curious to see what’s going to happen,” Jenna shares before the test.
During the exam, the reporter was shown the images in random order, and after six minutes, Jenna’s brainwave response to her husband was the strongest. Langeslag has been researching love and the brain for more than two decades, and she’s found time and time again that her subjects’ brains create more intense electrical signals when they see a photo of their romantic interest versus photos of other people.
Similar findings have also backed up Langeslag's research. In another experiment that biological anthropologist Helen Fisher conducted in 2005, college students viewed pictures of romantic partners compared to those of acquaintances. After analyzing 2,500 brain scans of these students, she and her team found that the photos of people her subjects loved caused the participants’ brains to become active in regions with dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Based on the results, the region associated with reward detection and expectations and the region associated with pleasure, focused attention, and motivation to pursue awards were active.
But, Jenna's test found that Henry does have some competition. “Your response to the cat is not quite as strong to your husband, but it’s there, which makes sense because you’re probably also very attached to the cat,” Landeslag concludes in her results. Just in case Henry is watching, Jenna jokes, “But more attached to the husband.”
The segment aired on Today on February 13, 2023, and apparently, Henry already knew the results of the test. He even prepared a video to share with his wife. “Jenna, I understand you just finished a love study and that I came out on top,” he begins. “You do actually love me. I love you.” He then notes that since her choices were among Harry Styles, their cat, Tom Brady, and himself, “It’s hard to believe," he quips.