It's long been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but new research suggests that this is true for women, too—though with a twist. In a study published in the journal Appetite, researchers at Drexel University report that women's brains are more responsive to romantic cues when they are full than when they are hungry. In one way, the findings are surprising given many other stories show that people in general are more responsive to reward stimuli (i.e. food, drugs, money) when hungry than when full. But it also reaffirms previously held findings "showing overlapping brain-based responses to sex, drugs and food," they write. To test this, the team analyzed brain circuitry in 20 women, half of whom had tried at least twice in the past to diet and half who hadn't; all were normal weight.
After fasting for eight hours, they all came to the lab hungry then were shown romantic images (a couple holding hands) and neutral ones (a bowling ball) while in an fMRI scanner. Brain activity was similar across all participants, but when they had the women look at the same pictures after consuming 500 calories, their brains were more active, and this was especially true among the women who had previously dieted. "Instead of being anxious and annoyed and irritable when you’re hungry…once we're sated, then we can get on to better things," researcher Alice Ely tells Time. Still, the sample size was small, thus the findings should be taken with a grain of salt. "It’s all very speculative, but it’s still very interesting and a sort of unexpected finding," says Ely. (These women pick chocolate over sex.)