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August 2008
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How to Make a Man Fall in Love

Thanks to the miracle of Google News Alerts, this article from a website in Ghana came to my email inbox this morning. I think it was pinched from an American publication; in any case, I think it's excellent advice and draws accurately from neuroscience's current understanding of bonding and mating -- as well as lots of other good tips.

The first set of tips involve trying to get a man's vasopressin system to kick in. Both oxytocin and vasopressin, a related neurochemical that's amped up by testosterone, seem to be necessary for the male bond. Vasopressin also influences aggressive and protective behaviors, such as mate-guarding in monogamous mammals.

I dunno about the science behind "wear soft fabrics," but it couldn't hurt.

"Six Songs," Orgasm and Music

Daniel Levitin, the author of "Your Brain on Music" and "The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature," gives major props to oxytocin as the root of at least some of the goodness in music.

According to this interview by Eric Clark of the Iowa City Gazette,

... when people perform or listen to music their bodies release oxytocin, the same hormone that's released during an orgasm.

"It's one reason why people who are fans of music feel such an intense connection to their favorite artists," says Levitin, 50, calling from his office at McGill University in Montreal. "It's an orgasmic sort of bond."

In "Six Songs," Levitin posits that all music falls into one of six categories: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. And, I'll point out, five out of those six deal with human connection or emotion.

In 2003, researchers at the University of Stockholm found that people who sang together released oxytocin. I'm going to check his book to see his refs for listening to music triggering the oxytocin response. People always ask how they can get more oxytocin, and if listening to music really can do it, that would be pretty great.

And, an interesting thing about Levitin is that he was a very successful professional musician in the 1980s, and then he switched to neuroscience. That was a really good career move: The music industry is in deep trouble and neuroscience is really exciting and even glamorous.

C-Section May Interfere with Development of Maternal Behavior

In humans! James Swain of Yale scanned the brains of new mothers two to four weeks after delivery. He found their brains were less responsive to their babies' crying. From the article in News Medical.

"We wondered which brain areas would be less active in parents who delivered by caesarean section, given that this mode of delivery has been associated with decreased maternal behaviours in animal models, and a trend for increased postpartum depression in humans," said lead author Dr. James Swain, Child Study Centre, Yale University. "Our results support the theory that variations in delivery conditions such as with caesarean section, which alters the neurohormonal experiences of childbirth, might decrease the responsiveness of the human maternal brain in the early postpartum."

Many people think that the pulses of oxytocin released by the brain to start contractions during natural childbirth also prime the brain's emotional centers to love and care for the baby. By contrast, the steady intravenous drip of pitocin used to jumpstart labor in the majority of U.S. hospital births may not allow for the emotional circuits to respond -- especially since the contractions caused by pitocin can be much more painful than natural ones.

Because oxytocin can act as a mood elevator and is synergistic with serotonin, it's also possible that c-section might increase a mother's risk of postpartum depression.

A possible attachment gap created by c-section has also been shown in survey-type studies. Swain's work shows that it happens at the level of brain activity, possibly preventing important and permanent changes in the brain.

The Monogamy Gene

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute found that variations in a gene for vasopressin correlate with monogamous tendencies. Vasopressin seems to influence some bonding behaviors in males; it's  influenced by testosterone; and it's also responsible for defensive and aggressive behaviors, often in defense of the mate and family.
According to Bloomberg Muse:

The researchers ran genetic tests on 2,186 participants in the Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden and had them fill out a survey about the quality of their marriage. Men with a genetic variation scored significantly lower on a scale of partner bonding. One in three reported a crisis in their marriage within the past year, twice the number as those without the variation.

... Those whose husbands had one or two copies of the gene variation scored significantly lower on tests asking about their marriage quality than those without it.

Larry Young and Elizbeth Hammock of Emory University had found that variations in parts of the vasopressin gene, formerly considered "junk DNA", seemed to influence monogamy in the prairie vole. While this rodent is socially monogam0us, some individuals never mate. Hammock was able to breed non-monogamous prairie voles by selecting for this variation.

I heard Young present about this at a conference, and he was very cautious about extrapolating his vole work to humans. Paul Lichtenstein, a professor of genetic epidemiology at Karolinska, has kindly connected the dots for us humans.