Vol. 250 February 15, 2021 The Nature of Love

February 15, 2021

“Covid-19 hasn’t completely killed romantic relationships, but it has surely made things a lot more complicated.”

“Caught in a Covid romance: how the pandemic has rewritten relationships “-The Guardian

There is not a whole lot of new data about love during this pandemic year, . . .yet. A recent BBC article reported that the pandemic is causing great strain on relationships, and that increased amounts of time spent indoors, without respite, have resulted in the breakdown of a great number of marriages. In considering a subject for today’s medical fun facts blog, I went back to see what I had written about love on previous Valentine’s Days. I found four of my blogs about love from 2010, ‘15, ‘18, and ’19, and here’s a selection of fun facts from the past 10 years.

2010, February 15, “The Science of Love”

An analysis of the speed dating process demonstrated that during a three-minute encounter a person’s BMI (Body Mass Index) and facial symmetry were the most important elements of “attractiveness”. The percentages of impact on “attractiveness” during the first 90 seconds to 4 minutes of an encounter were 55% body language, 38%  speed and tone of voice, and 7% speech content.  – It is how you look and sound, and not what you say that counts. Excellent points to keep in mind for your ZOOM encounters.

The seven biological chemicals that are the basis of our attraction and love are:
Adrenaline, testosterone, and estrogen = LUST
Serotonin and dopamine = ATTRACTION
Functional MRIs in 32 people showed activity in “dopamine-rich” areas of the brain when asked to think about their
love of another. This area also shows a positive response with cocaine. Hence, proof of the adage, “addicted to love”.
Oxytocin and vasopressin = ATTACHMENT Oxytocin’s  nickname is “the cuddle hormone”. 

Number of genes for olfactory sense (smell) and number of genes for eye photoreceptors (vision) respectively:  1,000 / 300.  Number of pounds LIGHTER a woman wearing a spicy floral fragrance will appear to a man: 12 lbs.
The seven odors shown to increase penile blood flow are pumpkin pie, licorice, doughnuts, cinnamon, lavender, oriental spice, and cola

2015, February 14, “The Science of Love”

The earliest artistic depictions of the heart were in the shape of an inverted pine cone, apex pointing up. For a variety of speculative reasons the heart image was inverted to the one familiar to us today. If you think that this image mimics the rounded buttocks of a forward-bending woman, then you may also think that Cupid’s arrow looks appropriately phallic.

Today, science tells us that the heart is not the source of love. It is the brain, the source of the chemicals and hormones which apparently govern our emotions as they surge and ebb. 
About 1 billion St.Valentine Day cards are purchased each year; 85% by women. (Christmas cards top the charts at 2.6 billion).  Valentine cards inundate us with the symbol of love, the heart. Maybe this diagram of oxytocin should replace the heart as the symbol of true love.

Somehow I can’t see Hallmark going for this.

Despite all this scientific hodgepodge, deep down we all probably don’t want to believe that the mystery of human love can be explained by genetic maps and certain chemical blood levels. To quote one of the world’s most famous scientists, Alfred Einstein, when asked if he ever thought of trying to have “the perfect child”  with Marilyn Monroe, he said: “I would be afraid that the child might have my looks and her brains.”

2018, February 15, “What is Love?”

An author on NPR gave her definition of love in one excellent sentence: “Love is a collection of multiple positive moments shared with another.” 

Dr. Helen Reiss, Massachusetts General Hospital, lists five effects of love in her book The Empathy Effect.
1) “the honeymoon” from a large outpouring of dopamine, the “really good feeling” hormone. 
2) “the bonding” from  an increasing level of oxytocin, the “bonding hormone”. 
3) “singleness anxiety” from increased levels of norepinephrine, cortisol, and epinephrine, the “stress hormones”, from the anxiety of potential loneliness.
4) “togetherness medical benefits” because some diseases are diagnosed sooner in people who are coupled.
5) “longer lives” were associated with any “close social relationship”, not necessarily a romantic one. Family and friends do help.

What about shared positive moments on social media? Does using Facebook increase your longevity? lower your blood pressure? Will questions like this provoke a new wave of important biosocial research, or will they merely spawn a blockbuster Sci Fi film about a woman with 83 million Facebook friends who becomes President and lives cancer-free to age 150?

2019, February 15, “Sex, Love, and Attachment”

One theory is that there are three brain neuropathways which interconnect and interact to produce together the feeling of romantic love. This occurs in the most primal part of our brain which also generates feelings of hunger and thirst. The three pathways can operate independently, obviously one can have sex without love or attachment, but all three have to be working together to produce “romantic love”.

One study found that 48 escalating, self-revealing questions that random pairings of people asked of each other, followed by staring silently into each others’ eyes for four minutes, produced “friendships” of strangers that lasted for months in 35% of the pairings. This procedure became known as the Arons Protocol. In 2015 the writer of a love column, Mandy Len Carton, decided to try the Arons Protocol, now pared down to 36 questions in three sets, on one of her dates. She promptly fell in love, and described the experience in her Modern Love column, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”, her most widely read column according to the NY Times.

Using some of the suggested “attraction” elements for the development of love, we can imagine a six-foot, wide-shouldered, licorice-sucking man wearing a lavender sweater over a 2-day old T-shirt driving a Lotus through busy city traffic picking up a hitchhiking, ovulating blonde with a very symmetrical face, eating a doughnut above her C cup bra, and carrying a bouquet of spicy flowers  . . . as a movie . . . wait . . . it IS a movie . . . they already made it . . . but, Julia Roberts is taller than Richard Gere!

Or better yet, imagine using the Aron Protocol to reduce our current society’s polarization. Why not set up Aron Protocol meetings of couples for police and black community members, white and black college students, capitalists and socialists, or even Trump supporters and Trump opponents! Arthur Aron himself has said, “We never designed [the Aron Protocol] for use in the real world . . . but people are looking for ways to be close to others.”

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