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Oxytocin Researcher = Sexy Geek

For those who still need proof that oxytocin will be the hot peptide of 2006, Wired News named Paul Zak one of the year's sexiest geeks.

Kristen Philipkoski named Zak, co-chair of the economics department at Claremont University, for his research on economic "trust games," in which two people take turns transferring money to each other. Zak found that increased levels of oxytocin as people cooperated tended to make them act for mutual benefit rather than to play the game to win the most money. She wrote that he

[whittled] away at some long-held myths about the sexes. In a recent study he found that men, not women, react hormonally when they're not trusted, and that men tend to take negotiations over money personally.

Philipkoski misinterprets Zak's research, however. He worked with male subjects, but he didn't compare males and females to find that only males were affected by oxytocin. In fact, women are more affected, because estrogen reinforces the effects of oxytocin, while testosterone tends to mute them.

Can Trust Be Bottled?

The Boston Globe ran another story rounding up the latest experiments on oxytocin. Carey Goldberg adds some interesting details about the amount of oxytocin used in trust experiments:

The synthetic oxytocin used in the experiments has been around so long that it is available as a generic drug. It is no longer sold in the United States, though European women still use it to boost breastfeeding, said Paul Zak, one of the authors of the trust paper in Nature.

The dose needed to produce effects on trust was large -- subjects took about three teaspoonsful up their noses. But it appears to be quite safe, said Zak, who is director of the center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Goldberg also got Paul Zak of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies to comment on Liquid Trust:

But Zak said it's ''totally bogus," because sniffing oxytocin from someone's shirt collar will not get enough of the hormone to the brain. It's also available without a prescription -- unlike the real stuff -- he said, and overpriced: ''Liquid Trust" costs $49.95 for a two-month supply, while Zak and his colleagues made their inhalers for about $5 each.

Buy Trust!

It had to happen. Vero Labs put out a press release today hyping Liquid Trust, a personal body spray.  (The company has been advertising the product for a while now on Google search results.)

Vero Labs, based in New York, unveils their flagship product, Liquid Trust, for anyone looking to gain more trust from others. And this, says Vero Labs, is something everyone wants. Liquid Trust is a sleek, colorless, odorless oxytocin body spray with a light alcohol-base, small enough to carry around in a purse or pocket.

The company's website suggests Liquid Trust can be used by salespeople, singles and managers or employees. Would be a great thing to spritz on before a job interview.

$49.95 gets you a twelve-month supply. They say it's human oxytocin (which can't  be true) in a time-release form that lasts two to four hours.

What about using Liquid Trust to take advantage of people? Vero says:

We are strongly opposed to the use of Liquid Trust for immoral or illegal manipulations of people. We truly hope that you will only use our products when you have the other person's best interest in mind.

But anyway, think about this: By spraying Liquid Trust on your body, you'll be getting the lion's share of the dose. I think the user will be the one feeling more trusting and more connected.

Brain Re-Training for RAD

Nehemiah's Ranch for Youth, an Oregon facility for kids, uses psychomotor training to "rewire" brains and recreate missed developmental stages, according to this article from the Statesman Journal. Kathleen Ellyn writes,

The ranch offered a new rehabilitation option originally designed for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder: "brain retraining." It was proving to be effective in treating all sorts of other disorders and behaviors, including self-harming.

The brains of infants who experience  a lack of nurturing or bonding with primary caregivers don't receive the "behavioral patterning" necessary for healthy mental and emotional development, according to the theory.

The brain-retraining program is thought to reach these children and change the way they react by revisiting the missed developmental stages. It triggers reflexes in the central nervous system; reflexes such as an appropriate response to pain.

The program at Nehemiah's Ranch is modeled in part on one used by the Northwest Neurodevelopmental Training Center.

Cuddle Me NOW

I just ran across this year-old piece from Cuddle Party, the group that organizes snug-ins where groups of strangers can engage in no-commitment, no-hassle, a-sexual cuddling. The item explains why cuddling is sooo healthy.

Marnia Wilson and Gary Robinson, authors of "Peace Between the Sheets: Healing with Sexual Relationships," write

if you listed all the conditions and diseases related to stress or aggravated by stress, you'd have to list nearly every known condition. By easing stress, oxytocin helps to heal them all.

In addition to oxytocin's powerful effects on the body, it strongly affects your mind and behavior. It is nature's antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone. It creates feelings of calm and a sense of connection, so it actually shapes how you view the world. The whole universe looks like a better place when you feel tranquil and loving. Oxytocin also reduces cravings, which makes it the key to healing addictions of all kinds. For example, rats addicted to heroin used less of the drug when experimenters raised oxytocin levels in their brains.

For a good article on Cuddle Parties, read this from SF  Bay Area alt-weekly the East Bay Express.

I want to go to a cuddle party!

Bring Back the Boys' School?

This article from Vermont's Rutland Times adds more to the discussion of how differences in neurochemistry lead to differences in the way boys and girls learn. There was a time when some educators called for separating the sexes kn class so that girls wouldn't get shouted down by the mre aggressive boys. Now, the discussion has moved to how combined classes may not serve the needs of boys, either.

Rick Montgomery writes,

Maryland physician Leonard Sax is so convinced of nature's role in learning, he founded a national group calling on public schools to segregate classrooms by gender. "Both girls and boys have been disadvantaged by a system that disregards their hard-wiring."

For example, science has shown — and teachers should know, he said — that little girls generally hear better than little boys.

Even as toddlers, girls tend to score higher in language ability, face recognition, fine motor skills and "social sensitivity."

Their higher doses of oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding, probably plays a role, scientists believe.

Girls even test out better at multitasking.

Girls Learn Differently from Boys

This is old news,  but I didn't blog about it last time, so now I will note the Kansas City Star reporting on changes to classrooms to better accommodate the differences in the way girls and boys learn. Rick Montgomery writes,

Even as toddlers, girls tend to score higher in language ability, face recognition, fine motor skills and “social sensitivity.” Their higher doses of oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding, probably plays a role, scientists believe.

Girls even test out better at multitasking.

Some schools have experimented with making different areas to complement the sexes: a quiet, carpeted area for girls, an open  area where  boys can move freely.

Maryland physician Leonard Sax is so convinced of nature’s role in learning, he founded a national group calling on public schools to segregate classrooms by gender. “Both girls and boys have been disadvantaged by a system that disregards their hard-wiring.”

Montgomery discusses several different studies of brain-based gender differences, and talked to a variety of experts. Many are nervous about calling any trait hard-wired or gender-specific. But it can at least be a good starting point for what some teachers call "one mind at a time."

A very good read about education and gender.

No Oxytocin from Robot Dogs

A robotic "pet" can provide some of the health benefits of the flesh-and-fur variety, but interactions didn't provoke the oxytocin response, according to a University of Missouri study.

U.S. News & World Report says

In a recent study at the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropped among adults who, for several minutes, petted AIBO, Sony's dog-shaped robot that responds when stroked, chases a ball, and perks up when it hears a familiar voice. That's the same reaction live dogs get. Unlike real dogs, though, AIBO didn't prompt increases in "good" body chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins.

AIBO is that Sony toy that can learn voice commands and seems to respond to you. I got my mom a knockoff one Christmas, but she never used it.

Researchers at Purdue gave kids and people living in assisted living facilities AIBOs; the kids thought it was a decent pet, while the seniors felt less depressed and lonely.

It's interesting that the Missouri study didn't find an increase in oxytocin. Humans seem to be able to squirt out stress hormones without external stimuli. Just thinking about an argument can raise our blood pressure. Can we not similarly automatically invoke the calming chemicals? This study indicates we don't.

Other researchers have shown an increase oytocin when we stroke furry animals. I assumed it was a response to the warmth and softness. But maybe there needs to be face or eye contact to get that love juice going. Which would make sense, because babies learn the oxytocin response as they look into their mothers' faces. 

It would be interesting to test whether oxytocin production is higher when we stroke animals that make eye contact, for example a dog or cat versus a bunny or hamster.