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A Broken Heart Could Turn Off the Oxytocin Response

Some people feel really uncomfortable hearing that neurochemicals, including oxytocin, dopamine and vasopressin, are responsible for some of our most profound emotions. Of course, it's not that simple.

Do neurochemicals create emotions? Or are they just one part of a symphony of events, thoughts and physiological events?

A study by scientists at NYU and Rutgers found that we can consciously

According to Science Daily,  NYU professor Elizabeth Phelps, Rutgers professor Mauricio Delgado and  NYU grad student M. Meredith Gillis, wanted to understand  "emotional regulation strategies"  related to expecting a reward. Emotional regulation  is the process, conscious or unconscious, of  holding our emotions in check. You could call it self-control.

They found that people could easily "turn off" their sense of anticipation of a reward.

The results showed that the participants' emotion regulation strategies could influence physiological and neural responses relevant to the expectation of reward. Specifically, results from the [skin conductance responses] revealed that the subjects' emotion regulation strategies decreased arousal that was linked to the anticipation of a potential reward.

"Our findings demonstrated that emotion regulation strategies can successfully curb physiological and neural responses associated with the expectation of reward," said Delgado.

The researchers want to know how thoughts can curb urges, particularly cravings for addictive drugs.

But how many of us have learned to turn off our expectations for love or happiness? It's natural after a bad breakup to say, "I'll never love again." This research shows that this thought can become self-fulfilling. If we don't expect connection or love, we don't see it when it comes again. Or, we enter the relationship with a defeatist attitude that's unrewarding for us and for our new lover.

Taking it down to the neurochemical level, when that oxytocin feeling comes, we can shut it down without realizing it.

But I think this study also shows that we can do the opposite. It's really really hard, but if we can tell ourselves that we can love again -- or love for the first time some day -- we can make it happen.