This Documentary Uses Science to See Who Loves the Hardest

Six adults (and one kid), one fMRI machine, five minutes to love someone (or something) as hard as possible. In The Love Competition, a short documentary first featured in McSweeney’s Wholphin #15, filmmaker Brent Hoff and Stanford University neuroscientists try to see which type of love makes the brain most active.


Contestants — including a couple married for 50 years, a young woman who clearly adores her boyfriend, a man mourning his breakup, and a woman who’s never been in love — have five minutes in the machine to “love someone as hard as they can.” The person whose love makes their brain light up the most wins.

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Yes, but what kind of “love” are we talking about here?

  • Limerence and infatuation, which is self-deceptive and never lasts?
  • The mature love of deep, complex friendship which lasts decades?
  • Love of life, existence and the universe itself?

Have they figured out with high accuracy which parts of the brain light up for each? If so I suspect that the latter two are more complicated than the first. But I could be wrong.