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July 2005
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September 2005

Some Find Hugging Repulsive

And so they should. In Botswana, there seems to be a craze for social hugging, the Daily News says.

"It seems that it has substituted the handshaking greetings, and it has raised some concerns to some people who find it strange," the article said.

Some of the people interviewed felt that hugging should be reserved for lovers and family, while a young woman complained that men used hugging as a cover for groping.

We humans aren't hormone machines, after all. Context is everything, and we won't get all the biochemical goodies that can come with touch if that touch isn't welcome.

Puppy Love Is Real Love

I love it when science "proves" things we intuitively know as humans.

Researchers at the University of Missouri took blood samples from people and dogs before and after a session of heavy petting. In the people, they found elevated levels of serotonin, the lack of which seems to be a central cause of clinical depression. They also found elevated prolactin and oxytocin, two feel-good chemicals. Rebecca Johnson, who's leading the research with Richard Meadows, said:

“Our research also is trying to determine what types of people would best benefit from being with animals. By showing this benefit, we can help pet-assisted therapy become a medically accepted intervention that might be prescribed to patients.”

No word yet on the blood work on the dogs, but Johnson said her team will look at that as well. I'm betting dogs are packed full of those cuddle hormones.

The article was reprinted by

A Mother in Pain

When I read about Judith Andrews two days ago,  I identified with her son, watching a mother abandon him for the second time.  I woke up the next morning full of empathy for the mother. 
What hellish struggles had she gone through to reach this point?

She may have tried with evrything she had to give this kid the love he craved, to break through his protective wall.  While he had to fight against that love with all he had, because in his short life he'd learned that love leads only to pain.

We're supposed to  learn love in our parents' arms; if  we don't, we can't respond, no matter how hard someone else loves us.  But this little kid still can learn love. I'm hoping with all my heart that  these two get another chance.

Left On the Side of the Road

According to KSDK News, a woman put her adopted son out on the side of the road because she couldn't deal with his problems.

"55-year-old Judith Andrews of Ypsilanti, Michigan told 2 On Your Side that she left her adopted five year-old son along Grand Island Boulevard because he has a an attachment disorder."


I've heard anecdotally from family therapists that there's a brewing epidemic of adopted kids showing signs of reactive attachment disorder, or RAD. I'm sure a lot of adoptive parents realize that there can be adjustment problems, and they don't get the help they need to deal with them.

An awful lot of us -- myself included -- can empathize with that feeling of being abandoned in our loneliness. This story brings up a well of grief in me. But I don't think anyone who hasn't been as bereft as this child is can truly understand the utter despair he must feel. He must have hoped, at least dimly, that having a family would bring him out of his isolation. Instead, he got the ultimate rejection.


Are We Fools to Trust?

Science & Theology News rounds up some of the recent studies of oxytocin and trust, adding one I haven't seen before. According toJ. Keith Murnighan and Robert Lount, researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, happy people are more trusting than sad people.

Writer Mike Martin quotes Murnighan as saying,

"Research on happiness suggests that it reduces mental processing — we work less hard cognitively. We might miss subtle cues when we are happy that we would otherwise detect and be concerned about.”

It sounds like Murnighan is implying that it's a mistake to trust others, and that happy people aren't seeing things clearly. That's an awfully pessimistic assumption.

Moreover, that assumption isn't borne out by the "trust game" itself. In this experiment originated by Joyce Berg, John Dickhaut and Kevin McCabe, two people must make decisions about giving each other money. In the end, the more money they give each other, the more each one ends up with. (But that system only works if each one trusts the other.)


Life-changer for RAD kids?

Angus Fosten, an adoptive father of two, reviewed a book designed to help kids get rid of harmful, hurtful beliefs, such as "Bad things happened to me because I"m not a loveable person."  The book could be helpful in staving off reactive attachment disorder in kids who didn't get what they needed to grow emotionally.

A Safe Place for Caleb  by Kathleen and Paul Chara, is designed to be used by parents together with their kids.  Fosten writes,

The book provides a framework for addressing issues with attachment, grief and loss or early trauma, or Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

It sounds like the book is based on theories of  neurolinguistic programming, a therapeutic method that focuses on changing the words we use -- in our minds and out loud -- to change the way we think and, thereby, the way we feel.

The book teaches kids to build a "Safe Treehouse" in their minds, a beautiful place they can go to when they feel overwhelmed. Fosten writes:

To get to this place a series of keys need to be gained by changing from Hurting Beliefs and Behaviours to Healing Ones.

Hugs Are Healthier for Women

The BBC News Online reports that oxytocin-producing hugs benefit women's hearts more than men's. These are their actual blood-pumping hearts, not the metaphorical, emotional ones.

The study showed hugs increased levels of oxytocin, a "bonding" hormone, and reduced blood pressure - which cuts the risk of heart disease.

But, writing in Psychosomatic Medicine, the researchers said women recorded greater reductions in blood pressure than men after their hugs.

The University of North Carolina study, led by Karen Grewer, found  elevated levels of oxytocin in both men and women. In women, they also found lower blood pressure and reduced levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress.

Men's higher levels of testosterone and vasopressin tend to reduce the effects of oxytocin, so it makes sense.