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September 2008
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November 2008

Physical Warmth Translates to the Emotional

This doesn't make intuitive sense, but Colorado University at Boulder Assistant Professor Lawrence E. Williams has found that simply handling a hot cup of coffee can change one's attitude toward a stranger.

People who had held a hot cup of coffee had a more positive impression of a person they read about than those who had held a cold drink.

"Experiences of physical temperature per se affect one's impressions of and pro-social behavior toward other people, without one's awareness of such influences," said Williams. "At a board meeting, for instance, being willing to reach out and touch another human being, to shake their hand, those experiences do matter although we may not always be aware of them. In a restaurant, it's been shown that wait staff who touch customers usually get a better tip. It's a nice gesture, but it also has a warming effect."

Of course, touch also can evoke the oxytocin response. I wonder if heat does, as well?

University of Colorado at Boulder (2008, October 23). Physical And Interpersonal Warmth Linked. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/10/081023144059.htm

Williams is a marketing professor, not a psychologist. But it seems that touching someone -- offering physical warmth -- is a good way to make a positive connection.

Sex Before Presentations

Here's a fun short article on a good way to reduce your fear of public speaking. Mike Roizen and Mehmet Oz, the doctor-authors of the YOU: The Owner's Manual series, recommend having sex before a stressful event. This, of course, releases oxytocin.

Ducking into the bathroom at the conference with a significant other probably wouldn't be a great idea; but, if you didn't have too much performance anxiety of the sexual kind, you might ... um... how shall I say this politely? You might self-pleasure to get the same benefit.

Is Politics All About Oxytocin?

Paul Zak, who knows more about how oxytocin operates in humans than anyone else, has a video blog post on Psychology Today.

He has a lot of interesting things to say about how political parties stand in for tribal affiliations. I'm not sure I agree with him that evaluating your oxytocin response to politicians is the best way to choose who you'll vote for. See my comment after the video for more.

Consumer Reports: Natural Childbirth May Be Better

A new report by the nonprofit Childbirth Connection published today on says when it's time to bring a new baby into the world, there's a lot to be said for letting nature take the lead.

The Childbirth Connection study analyzed hundreds of the most recent studies and systematic reviews of maternity care. It notes that the current style of maternity care is so procedure-intensive that six of the 15 most common hospital procedures in the entire U.S. are related to childbirth. Although most childbearing women in this country are healthy and at low risk for childbirth complications, national surveys reveal that essentially all women who give birth in U.S. hospitals have high rates of complex interventions, with risks of adverse effects.

You can also take a quiz to test your knowledge about procedures in hospital maternity wards.

It's kind of amazing that a mainstream and respected organization like Consumer Reports has gotten behind natural childbirth. This must signal a shift in our society's ideas.

I think natural childbirth and breastfeeding whenever possible contribute to the development of a strong bond between mother and baby, thereby helping to ensure good development of the baby's own oxytocin response.

Interview with the "Mother of Oxytocin"

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, a Swedish scientist, was the first person to understand that oxytocin isn't just for childbirth. She learned that it's also central to the action of the parasympathetic nervous system, which she calls the "calm and connection system."

In 2003, she wrote "Oxytocin Factor," explaining all this.

The Life Science Foundation has an excellent interview with her. In it, Moberg points to studies showing that real eye contact between nothers and babies has been reduced by half. She also discusses the drive to produce oxytocin-based drugs. Like me, she believes it's better to learn to activate your oxytocin system behaviorally.

Music/Oxytocin Link: More Evidence

A music professor at Arizona State University is doing a study looking at whether and in what circumstances playing music leads to an oxytocin release. Gary Hill, a band directo, got a seed grant from Institute for Humanities Research. His study is called, “Oxytocin: Fueling Music’s Power in Human Emotions, Memory and Restoration.”

Hill drew blood from 10 music students before and after they played in an ensemble, in a small group, and alone. He also asked them questions about their mood.

He'll present his results in a paper on October 10, as part of a conference called "Oxytocin and Music." Other presenters:

Dr. Claudius Conrad, a research fellow at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, who also is a concert pianist, ""Hormonal Changes Secondary to Music in Very Ill Intensive Care Patients."

• Dr. Walter Freeman, director of the Freeman Laboratory for Nonlinear Neurodynamics and professor emeritus of neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, "The Putative Role of the Intermittent Release of Oxytocin for Unlearning in Alteration With learning in Social contexts."

• Joanne V. Loewy, director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, title TBA.

• Steven Mithen, dean and professor of archaeology at the School of Human and Environmental Sicneces, University of Reading, UK, "Learning to Sing: Evolutionary and developmental Perspectives."

• Dr. Tores Theorell, professor emeritus of psychosocial environmental medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, "Examining and Comparing Parasymphathetic System Activitiy in Pianists, Flute Players and Singers."

It's fascinating that a non-medical, non-scientific researcher is doing this work -- and that a humanities organization funded it. Read the press release here.