Previous month:
December 2008
Next month:
February 2009

Dating 3 to Avoid the Oxytocin Trap

Interesting story on MSNBC from relationship expert and psychologist Diana Kirschner on how to find love by not getting hung up on the wrong man. Always be dating three men at a time.

On this dating program, you avoid that pressured decision and its aftermath: a Flame-Out that usually kills the relationship. Instead you date three men at the same time without having sex with any of them. By not seeing any one man too often, you find the men who are really into you and who will stay the course. Plus, you break out of your prison of Deadly Dating Patterns and maneuver more skillfully in the dating world.

This great advice can keep a woman from getting caught in the oxytocin trap. Sex, kissing, even close physical proximity can cause a woman's brain to release oxytocin, making her feel bonded to someone she doesn't even know well enough.

Serotonin Makes a Happy Crowd

Swarming locusts are famous for devouring everything in their path. Looking for the trigger that makes billions of locusts form one of these devastating hordes, scientists discovered that serotonin turns the usually solitary grasshoppers into highly social -- and highly mobile -- insects.

When there's plenty of forage, locusts are solitary, happily going about their business eating and pooping. As resources dwindle during dry periods, the locusts get more and more crowded and come into physical contact with each other. However, instead of this crowding triggering fighting and increased competition, it instead causes them to be more social. They actively seek each other out, according to this article from ScienceDaily.

The research team found that they could easily make solitary locusts gregarious simply by tickling their hind legs, which simulates the jostling they'd get in the wild. This tickling caused a jump in serotonin in the locusts' brains, which happen to be located in their thoraxes.

According to the story:

Dr Swidbert Ott, from Cambridge University, one of the co-authors of the article, said: "Serotonin profoundly influences how we humans behave and interact, so to find that the same chemical in the brain is what causes a normally shy antisocial insect to gang up in huge groups is amazing."

Professor Malcolm Burrows, also from Cambridge University: "We hope that this greater understanding of the mechanisms causing such a big change in behaviour will help in the control of this pest, and more broadly help in understanding the widespread changes in behavioural traits of animals."

Animals like people? Okay, and why am I covering this in a blog about oxytocin?

The oxytocin and serotonin systems are closely related, and both neurochemicals seem to influence social behavior. Low-serotonin monkey mothers aren't as nice to their babies, and lower levels of mothering behavior in mice create fewer oxytocin receptors in the brains of their pups -- even when they grow up.

It's likely that both of these hold true for humans; and evidently these researchers think their locust research could apply to mammals.  Connecting the dots:

Could we be an under-nurtured, low-serotonin, low-oxytocin society? Could this by why we can no longer come together as a unified society, but instead get more stressed out and angry, the closer we get?

University of Cambridge (2009, January 29). How A Brain Chemical Changes Locusts From Harmless Grasshoppers To Swarming Pests.

See also: Oxytocin Deficit Disorder

Why It Takes Women Longer to Want to Get "Close"

UK researchers used game theory to model extended animal courtship. Their conclusion: If the courtship process takes longer, it gives the female more time to evaluate the male's potential as father of her offspring.

According to the Science Daily article,

The model assumes that the male is either a ‘‘good’’ or a ‘‘bad’’ type from the female’s point of view, according to his condition or willingness to care for the young after mating. The female gets a positive payoff from mating if the male is a ‘‘good’’ male but a negative payoff if he is ‘‘bad’’, so it is in her interest to gain information about the male’s type with the aim of avoiding mating with a “bad” male. In contrast, a male gets a positive payoff from mating with any female, though his payoff is higher if he is “good” than if he is “bad”.

This is another thing that may be moderated by the oxytocin response. Monogamous female mammals, like the prairie vole, need to spend time with a male before they'll mate. I call this rodent dating. Sue Carter has found that blocking oxytocin in a female prairie vole will eliminate her need for this dating period. In the wild, this period would allow the good/bad assessment the researchers are talking about, while allowing her to build social memory of the male via oxytocin -- before she invests in his offspring, and before she develops a monogamous bond.

The human parallel is sooo clear. As I say, anyone can pretend to be great for three dates; a lot of people can pretend to be okay for three months. After that, you see the warts.

And this is why, people, it's a bad idea to have sex on the first date.

Robert M Seymour and Peter D Sozou. Duration of courtship effort as a costly signal. Journal of Theoretical Biology, January 2009

Breastfeeding Moms Less Likely to Abuse

A study of more than 6,000 Australian mothers found that those who breastfed for at least four months were likely to have a stronger bond, while babies that were bottle fed were 2.5 times more likely to be maltreated by their moms, according to this USA Today report.

Lead researcher Lane Strathearn of the Baylor College of Medicine thinks this may be because the oxytocin released during breastfeeding strengthens the mother's bond with the baby, making her likely to treat it better. And after all, you could see the adaptive advantage of love as making it more likely a baby would survive, because the parents wanted to be together and cooperate in taking care of it.

However, as the article points out, it's also possible that this study's result is due to the mothers who were perseverant and dedicated enough to breastfeed would have been likely to take better care of their infants anyway.

The article also takes care to -- politically correctly -- emphasize that bottle-feeding moms can be just as good mothers as the breastfeeders.


Oxytocin Helps a Guy Ejaculate

One guy, okay? But this study points to still another potential therapeutic use for oxytocin, which sure seems like some kinda wonder drug.

A test published in April 2008)  at Cedars Sinai examined whether inhaling oxytocin would help a male patient who couldn't orgasm. The docs had ruled out medical conditions, drugs and  "psychological issues" as the cause of his inability to  ejaculate.  Yes, it did. He was able to ejaculate.

Why this worked is unclear from the abstract. My speculations:

Oxytocin relieves anxiety, and maybe this man had become so anxious about orgasm that he couldn't do it. (Although the researchers ruled out psychological issues, and I assume anxiety would classify.)

Oxytocin is responsible for erection and ejaculation (along with other chemicals). And a review of animal studies opined that the reason that SSRIs lower sexual desire and function could be because they decrease the sensitivity of oxytocin receptors. If this patient's oxytocin receptors had reduced sensitivity for some reason, the extra jolt of oxytocin could have been what was needed.

Neuroscience in the Age of Miracles

It really does seem like science has pulled aside the veil of emotion. And brain scanning can point the way to therapies that can alter the brain's workings to make it healthier. A two-day seminar at Chico State University promises to provide a terrific overview. This is part of the annual "Children in Trauma" Conference, designed for social workers, law enforcement, therapists and others who work with kids. I attended two years ago and it was well worth it.

CSU, Chico to Host 7th Annual Children in Trauma Conference – Neuroscience and the Age of Miracles

California State University, Chico, Continuing Education, in partnership with the Superior Court of California, presents Children in Trauma 2009: Neuroscience and the Age of Miracles. The two-day professional development conference will be held Jan. 16-17, 2009, at the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium on the CSU, Chico campus.

The 7th annual Children in Trauma Conference will provide an intensive two-day practicum focusing on how traumatic stress can alter early child development and how professionals who work with children can recognize this problem and learn how to apply the emerging intervention and treatment protocols.

The conference will feature nationally recognized practitioner Richard Gaskill, Ed.D., Child Trauma Academy Fellow and Clinical Director at Sumner Mental Health Center in Wellington, Kansas.

Gaskill is well respected in the field and has developed many successful programs for children and their parents, including child development classes, parenting classes, child-parent relationship training, attachment enhancement treatment groups, therapeutic alternative schools, therapeutic preschools, after-school programs and juvenile offender programs.

Marriage and family therapists, social workers, psychologists, educators, school and family counselors, attorneys, law enforcement professionals, mediators, child custody evaluators, behavioral health professionals, nurses, physicians, psychoanalysts, emergency responders, children’s advocates and concerned individuals are encouraged to take advantage of this continuing education opportunity.

Participants will gain a greater understanding of difficulties and challenges children who have experienced trauma face and an improved ability to intervene successfully with children and youth adversely affected by severe trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to learning from a recognized practitioner, participants will walk away from this conference with an array of professional contacts and practical treatment tools.

Participants may earn 12 hours of BBSE (Provider PCE 799), BRN (Provider 00656), MCEP (Provider CAL123), and MCLE continuing education credit.

In addition to the featured speaker, exhibitors from public service agencies and other resource providers will be on hand to share a wide array of information and discuss their services. Exhibitor space is available.

Early registration fee for the two-day conference is $295 per person (includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials). Group rate discounts are also available.

To enroll or for more information, please call CSU, Chico Continuing Education at 530-898-6105, e-mail [email protected], and visit the Web site

Ecstacy Helps PTSD Treatment

Two Norwegian scientists, Pål-Ørjan Johansen, a psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and  Teri Krebs, a neurobiologist at the university, have offered an explanation for how ecstasy aka MDMA might help people get over post-traumatic stress disorder.
They've analyzed a study by Michael Mithoefer that found ecstasy made treatment much more effective, as well as other studies. From Science Daily:

Mithoefer took 21 people with chronic PTSD, all of whom had been subjected to documented abuse. All had also been through six months of treatment with traditional therapy, in addition to a three-month treatment with drugs. None, however, had shown any improvement from the treatment.

Under Mithoefer’s treatment, the patients stopped their usual anxiety-reducing drugs, and began a new treatment with twelve sessions of psychotherapy. During two of these therapy sessions, some patients were given doses of MDMA, while the others were given a placebo (a fake pill).

Two months after the treatment, 92 percent of MDMA patients had clinically significant improvement in their conditions: They were more open to therapy and were able to process the trauma.

The researches propose that part of this effect is due to MDMA's increasing levels  of oxytocin in the brain, thereby making the person feel more trusting and open to the therapeutic relationship.  MDMA also reduces activity in the amygdala -- and this is likely also the result of the increase in oxytocin, because in other tests, inhaling oxytocin lowered activity in this part of the brain, which is responsible for pre-conscious emotional reactions such as fear.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (2009, January 8). Ecstasy For Treatment Of Traumatic Anxiety. ScienceDaily.