Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
The Love Potion No. 9 Inside Your Brain; more
Q: What exactly happens in your brain when you fall in love?
A: You mean BESIDES your whole brain turning to mush, honey bear?
Actually, the brain has its own Love Potion No. 9 - oxytocin - a hormone that's aptly made up of nine amino acids.
Oxytocin doesn't just make you think about sex. The scientific name for what enhances that is: "being male."
The interesting thing about oxytocin is that it helps mates bond long term, says C. Sue Carter, a psychiatry professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Carter has extensively studied the effects of oxytocin on Midwestern rodents called prairie voles.
"Using the methods of science, we can make any prairie vole fall in love with whoever we want," Carter says. (WITHOUT wine and flowers.)
So why care about prairie voles? Humans happen to share the physiological effects of oxytocin and we show the same patterns of "social monogamy," forming lasting - sometimes even, lifelong relationships.
Wait, the romantic in you objects. What about when the sunlight filtered through the dappled leaves of autumn and you first caught sight of your sweetheart? That must have been true love.
OK, sure. But what has made that relationship last probably has a lot to do with this brain chemical.
To paraphrase Willie Nelson, "You were always on my mind," but oxytocin was on my amygdala. (That's not dirty. It's a key emotional center of the brain.)
How can we use this "liquid Dr. Phil" to improve our relationships? The brain makes oxytocin during the following: Birth, when the mother lactates, parenting activities (especially for dad), stress-management activities like relaxation and massage, and positive social activities like friendly talk and shared hobbies. And sex. (Prairie voles mate for 30 HOURS. That's a lotta oxytocin.)
So if you want to keep your marriage together, mom shouldn't be so cranky and dad should help with the kids, Carter says. This stuff may release oxytocin, which in turn encourages more compatible activities. In other words, nice families help build lasting love relationships.
Carter has been approached by TV producers who want to examine the effects of oxytocin on 100 couples. A reality show on Fox-ytocin, perhaps?
She questions the ethics of such a program.
Q: I especially liked your article last year about living for a week on holiday food in the office. Will you do something else crazy this year? - Betty Little
A: Only if you people help me come up with an idea.
If you missed the story Betty's talking about, last year I survived (barely) for a week solely on free holiday food in my office. The story connected with people, and made newspapers around the country, TV newscasts and CBS radio. (Not to mention Bob and Sheri.)
The story's still online at the Seattle Times Web site at http://tinyurl.com/5ta4q.
But my only ideas for a follow-up have been lame. (I was the world's largest elf!)
I need a holiday story idea that's universal. (Think malls, food, stress, mistletoe...) Send me an inspired idea for something crazy I can do this holiday season.
On the human brain ...
1. Is the brain highly active during many periods of sleep?
2. What brain phenomenon is known by the French term for "already seen"?
3. Which is the brain's center for memory? a) Hippocrates b) Hippocampus c) Rhinoplasty b) Hippocampus
4. Can the damage done to the brain by a stroke be significantly reduced by getting the victim immediate medical treatment?
5. True or false: Many teens are not emotionally mature because that aspect of the brain develops relatively late.
6. Can scientists now use high-tech imaging to look into living brains and see which parts work on different tasks?
2. Deja vu.
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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.
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