November 10, 2010
When scientists — arguably the most logical of humans — try to make sense of love, interesting things are bound to happen. As Albert Einstein concluded: “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” (No one’s ruled out inertia, entropy, or nuclear fusion.) Traditionally, of course — metaphorically or otherwise — we trace the origin of love to our hearts. Thankfully, though, Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue suggests that our head has something to do with it, too — and not just when it’s over our heels.
In the new study “The Neuroimaging of Love,” Ortigue reveals that “12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression.” Basically, “falling in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain.” Apparently, when it comes to love, we can go from zero to sixty in 1/5th of a second — meaning that euphoria can enter our system as quickly, if not faster, than a controlled substance.
So falling in love is like being on cocaine. It happens real fast, you’re on this crazy high — and then you come down. Interestingly enough, cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca Cola. Coca Cola was first introduced as a patent medicine “for all that ails you.” Since cocaine isn’t legal and has long been removed from Coca Cola, maybe all we need is love?
Dr. Sean Mackey, chair of the pain management division of Stanford University, might agree. Writing recently in Time, Alice Park explores Mackey’s research into to what degree love might “influence how we experience physical pain.” Mackey discovered that when people who reported being in the first stages of “new and passionate love” were shown pictures of their various pumpkins and pookies, they could withstand greater amounts of pain — even more so than when occupied by mental tests or when shown photos of equally attractive friends.
While I am all for love as a potential wonder-drug, one of my questions is: why only romantic love? Would throwing a different kind of love — say parent/child — into the pain equation garner the same results? Isn’t that love just as mind-altering? Nope, turns out. Well, not in the same way.
Ortigue’s study found that the reason parent-child love would likely not have the same effects on pain is that different parts of the brain are stimulated by different kinds of love: “Passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain, and also associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.”
Parent-child love wouldn’t reduce pain physically because it doesn’t stimulate the reward center. However, that’s not to say that a parent wouldn’t be able to endure more pain should their child be in danger. In essence, Mackey’s study is strengthened by Ortigue’s assertion that the brain releases chemicals akin to cocaine to stimulate romantic love, because like cocaine, love works back and forth with the brain as it heightens certain things and dulls others. Love engages “our very deep, old and primitive reptilian system that involves basic needs, wants, and cravings.”
Since romantic love allows us to withstand more pain, perhaps it is the reason humans survive. While the end of love can hurt, to the point of making people lovesick, the euphoria of being in love keeps us coming back, much like cocaine keeps an addict coming back — all ensuring that we continue the species. From an evolutionary standpoint, the emergence of romantic love in humans may be all about survival of the fittest – rewarding us for the formation of potentially strong alliances with our mates and, as shown by Mackey allowing us to withstand greater amounts of pain, which from a primitive standpoint would have been useful in a fight with that mastodon.
Be thankful. Biology is looking out for us in more ways than one.
October 19, 2010
Via @Naunihal: Oldly-wed couples, counter-intuitively enough, might tank at The Newlywed Game. As Wired reports, a new study from the University of Basel has found that “couples married for an average of 40 years know less about one another’s food, movie and kitchen-design preferences [?!] than do partners who have been married or in committed relationships for a year or two.” (Dramatically, when data for these preferences were combined, all couples agreed that “Julie and Julia” worked better as a book. — BG)
This pattern was observed among 38 couples aged 19 to 32, versus 20 couples aged 62 to 78. The greatest knowledge gap was in predicting food preferences, which just seems weird. The researchers’ hypotheses?
– Older couples pay less attention to such specifics, figuring eh, what’s left to learn?
– Older couples, rightly or wrongly, perceive more similarity between themselves.
– Older couples come from a generation in which men and women generally knew less about each other to begin with (Cf. Don Draper and Megan, not that they’ll last long enough to qualify as “older”)
– Older couples may be more likely to use “white lies” to keep things running smoothly. (”Seriously, your beets are my FAVORITE”)
And yet! Even though they knew less about their partners in certain areas, long-term couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships. So even if we start to space on the little-ish things we like (”I could have sworn you’d prefer Ikea”), it’s the like-like we share that pulls us through.
October 13, 2010
Mad props to OKCupid:
Gay issues have been in the news a lot lately, from the debate over same-sex marriage in Congress to a sickening rash of gay-bashing here in New York City. We see a lot of emotion out there, instead of information, and we wanted to provide some data-based context on sexuality so that people might make better choices about what they say, think, and do.
We run a massive dating site and therefore have unparalleled insight into sex and relationships. Here’s what we’ve found, in numbers and charts…
Their data-based results include: gay people are not out to bed breeders, gay people are not “promiscuous” (even on a dating site), and a whole lot of people are gay-curious. (BG: Possibly, in some cases, those who are gay-furious.) Anyway, just go read it. It’s quite important, and also very funny. That’s it. I just wanted to give the report, and its mission, an even bigger high-five than I could in 140 characters. VOTE CUOMO!
Tags: Andrew Cuomo
, Carl Paladino
August 24, 2010
Via Science Daily:
That old adage favored by scientists and ‘60s girl groups — “correlation is not causation, no sir” — seems to have eluded more than a few pundits in our day.
One hasty assumption in particular–that sexy media influences kids to have sex earlier–is being challenged in an article in a recent issue of Developmental Psychology. Psychologists Laurence Steinberg and Kathryn Monahan revisit a much-cited 2006 study by media expert Jane D. Brown which concluded that exposure to sexualized content on TV, or in music, movies, and magazines, accelerates sexual activity in young teenagers.
Steinberg and Monahan reanalyzed the data of Brown’s longitudinal study, but this time took into account the other dimensions of the participants’ lives that may have influenced their exposure to sexualized media and their pre-existing inclination to view or listen to the sexy stuff.
The authors discovered that while a link exists between sexual content and earlier sexual activity, they found “no accelerating or hastening effect of exposure to sexy media content on sexual debut once steps were taken to ensure that adolescents with and without high media exposure were matched on their propensity to be exposed to media with sexual content.”
They conclude, in other words, that the kids who were inclined to have sex earlier were also the kids who’d be likely to consume the hotter media, but the media didn’t, like, make them do it. In OTHERother words, it wasn’t Ke$ha’s fault (this time).
Kudos to Steinberg and Monahan for questioning a long-held assumption, turning the old blame-the-media trope on its head, and for using the word “sexy” about 700 times in their article, making it read like a Prince song.
Most importantly, they turn the focus back to other scientifically established causes of precocious sexual activity: parent–child conflicts and peer influence. Knowing the real causes may lead to more effective ways of helping kids be smart and wise consumers, or not, of the sexed-up stuff they see.
June 15, 2010
New research at Indiana University — based on participants’ observations of speed-dating interactions — suggests that humans (like birds and fish) engage in “mate choice copying,” where an individual copies the mate selections of others, even perfect strangers. I guess we sort of knew this, even though we tend to assume we’re most influenced by friends and family. Study author Skyler Place, Ph.D., suggests that choice copying may make evolutionary sense: “We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather the appropriate information by ourselves,” he says. “But humans, like many other animals, also pay attention to the preferences of others, to make for a more efficient search process. Who others like might also be a good choice for ourselves.” Right, but that’s assuming the others have good taste, which is an assumption that has not always been borne out by, e.g., the American electorate, the gods who choose the popular kids, Idol voters, etc. So maybe mate choice copying is something we should evolve out of?
June 11, 2010
A study at Wake Forest University of more than 1000 unmarried young adults ages 18-23 has found that the emotional roller coaster of romance has an even greater effect on the mental health of men than of women. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships,” said sociology prof Robin Simon, who found that men experience both greater stress when things are rocky and greater “emotional benefits” when things are rocking.
“Surprising?” Maybe, but only against strong, silent stereotype. For one thing (as Simon notes), men are more likely to rely on their galpals as their primary source of intimacy; gals, meanwhile, have their own galpals.
Simon also notes that (paraphrase) “strain in a current romantic relationship may also be associated with poor emotional well-being because it threatens young men’s identity and feelings of self-worth.” While men are more affected by the quality of an existing relationship, women are more affected by whether they’re in a relationship or not. From a summary: “So, young women are more likely to experience depression when the relationship ends or benefit more by simply being in a relationship.”
What this says to BG:
1. These results jibe with the letters we get/got.
2. Chicken vs. egg/nature vs. nurture? These results might do away with some stereotypes, but to what degree are the findings caused by stereotypes — or at least cultural assumptions, proclivities, etc. — to begin with? That is:
(a) women are “supposed” to be the emotional CEOs of relationships; are young men not raised with the same tools to manage them?
(b) Women, arguably more than men, get the message that they’re “supposed” to be in a relationship, no matter what; this, at least as much as internal factors, could explain why the study found breakups leaving women more bereft. (This also explains a lot of this.)
All of the above speaks to BG’s emphatically co-ed mission. Even though men represent 5o% of the partners in straight relationships, romance is — still — usually considered WomensStuff ™. That’s dumb. Men — obviously — have questions, not to mention feelings. Let’s work all this stuff out together, according to what we need, not what we’re “supposed” to want or have. K?
April 15, 2010
A new study at James Madison University (based on a limited sample) suggests that “more women than men continue to prefer dating whereas more men than women rate hooking up above dating.” At least that’s the way Science Daily describes it. And that’s not wrong in terms of the study, but how come it takes a whole bunch more paragraphs to get to this part? “Overall, both genders showed a preference for traditional dating over hooking up…On the whole, men and women agreed on the benefits and risks of dating and hooking up.* It’s not that gender differences are never interesting, or worthwhile to note. But maybe if we paid more attention to what we actually — demonstrably — have in common, there’d be, well, even more traditional dating.
March 5, 2010
Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com’s Broadsheet calls out the New York Times for misrepresenting statistics in the title of their article, “Living Together First Doesn’t Make Marriage Last, Study Finds.” Clark-Flory examines the statistics of said study and looks to other sources to sum up with her title “Living in sin not so bad after all”.
Now, a little something from revelations…for those living in sin, marriage isn’t always the end goal. Whoa. SHOCKER. How do I know this? Live in an overpriced metropolis where rent-controlled apartments are as hard to come by as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant and you find a lot of people shacking up for reasons other than a trial run for a walk down the aisle. Some of these reasons include freedom from rooommates, convenience, mobility, economics, and well, just plain old lust. So, what’s important in moving from “living in sin” to making an “honest man/woman/etc. out of someone/yourself”?
Having co-habitated a time or two, experience has taught me that what makes or breaks your relationship isn’t decided from the day to day stuff of living in each other’s space. It’s about sharing basic values and goals as a couple. It’s also about knowing why you moved in together and realizing that can change for both people. The day to day stuff just exacerbates an eventually doomed union. Really, even if someone keeps a clean house and finds your keys, it’s not going to fix your fear of commitment or the fact that you hate their work ethic. However, if a relationship is already working on the inner levels, leaving the cap off the toothpaste or drinking out of the orange juice carton isn’t such a big deal. Whether or not a couple lives together isn’t going to break them so much as reinforce what they already know - good and bad. As Clark-Flory notes “you’re better off following your own heart than any supposed make-or-break marital rules.”
The couples who do end up married after first living together most likely would have gotten married anyways - whether they both saw marriage as a possible end goal or they were the type to ignore doubt and just push forward. I am actually curious to know how many couples move in together and break up before the point of marriage. If living in sin is bad for anyone, it’s most likely divorce lawyers.
Just don’t forget the pre-prenup!
February 23, 2010
From the Charlotte Observer: “A forthcoming study by a Duke University researcher and several colleagues confirms what not-so-thin women and short, broke men have long suspected: They don’t get nearly as much romantic attention as skinny women and tall, financially secure guys.” You need a study for that? Here, I got a study. It’s called pay my rent, food, and Netflix. Fund that, science people.
The study, out of the University of Chicago, is still under peer review before publication. But here’s what we know: analyzing 22,000 online daters, researchers found that “women put a premium on income and height when deciding which men to contact.” They did the math: the study showed that a 5-foot-9-inch man needs to make $30,000 more than a 5-foot-10-inch one to be as successful in the dating pool.
Men in the study demonstrated a strong, and depressing, preference for women with a BMI of 18 or 19, which basically means if you’re 5′ 6″ you’ve gotta weigh 115. So okay, women want men who can afford to take them to dinner, but the men don’t want us to eat. This should work just fine.
Sarcasm aside, I’m still annoyed with this study — or at least, to some degree, this article about it — and the way it only, and unnecessarily, perhaps even misleadingly, perpetuates and underscores that same-old same-old depressing, needlessly divisive message: “The only thing men and women have in common is that they’re shallow.” ‘Cause here’s the thing: the article and the researchers talk about what a fertile field for study these online sites are, because there are just so many people on them. Right: there are just so many people on them. That’s why people go in — or at least online — with those faux-”high” standards. Because they can. There are so many eligible singles there, at least in urban and urbanish areas, that you can afford to impose a minimum height or maximum BMI standard. You know? Then later, at a party, you happen across someone who — for whatever ineffable reason — makes your heart go pitter-pat, maybe someone whose attributes you wouldn’t have click-clicked and checklisted, and boom, you give them a chance. I’m not saying some people aren’t shallow, but still.
As the article, to be fair, does state: “Since the study focuses on first impressions and initial contacts rather than marriage, it doesn’t rule out the chance of true love winning despite appearance or income. ‘If you had to sit down and write what you wanted in your dream guy, most girls would write ‘tall, hot and well-off,’” said Kari Castle, a 27-year-old online dater in Charlotte. ‘But in reality, is that the only thing they’d settle for? Probably not.’” Right.
So, I guess, since the study doesn’t really tell us much, the reporter is forced to fill in with dumb cranky unhelpful — and dare I say self-fulfilling — quotes like, “It’s got nothing to do with anything but green,” [said one bachelor]. “If you’ve got enough money, you’ll have women swarming all over you.” Attitude, people! Actually, it might be a guy in the comments who said it best: “If you think women will only like you if you have a sizable bank account, you are the one who makes that happen.”
February 17, 2010
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“Sense of humor:” it’s in pretty much everyone’s top three requirements for a mate, and fair enough (though I say hey, don’t settle, go for “grasp” of humor, or heck, “mastery”). But when it comes to getting laughs, do men (or, OK, lesbians) face a tougher crowd? A New Scientist article about the neuro-circuitry of comedy contains this interesting morsel:
“Men and women…seem to process jokes slightly differently. Although both sexes laugh at roughly the same number of jokes, women show greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex than men (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 102, p 16496). “This suggests a greater degree of executive processing and language-based decoding,” says [researcher Dean Mobbs]. As a result, women take significantly longer than men to decide whether they find something funny*, though that doesn’t seem to spoil their enjoyment of the joke. Indeed, women show a greater response in the limbic system than men, suggesting they feel a greater sense of reward.”
*Margin of error: One Super Bowl. ADS NOT FUNNY**: this we knew in a nano.
** Except this one.