Dogs in Dorms an Antidote to Stress?

Research shows that dogs make us healthier and happier. Should college dorms allow them?Rebecca McGoldrick @BrownUniversity thinks universities should create policies that allow for dogs in dorms.

McGoldrick writes,

... a casual conversation with my peers leads me to believe that many of us lack our greatest companion for years while earning a college degree. And science is showing that this interspecies relationship has more health implications than we might imagine.

She suggests policies could allow students to bring dogs from home, or they could participate in a fostering program with the local shelter or animal rescue organization.

As someone who sneaked a puppy into her dorm spring semester of her sophomore year -- and switched schools rather than give up the dog -- I'm all for it.




Tonight: Two Faces of Oxytocin

If you think oxytocin is only about the warm and fuzzy, recent studies have shown that's not the case. Tonight, I'll be speaking with Dr. Veronica on BlogTalk Radio about "Two Faces of Oxytocin."

Paul Zak and Bryan Post will also be on the program; it should be informative and fun. The show is live at 5 pm Eastern, and you'll also be able to listen to it in the archives.


Listen to internet radio with DrVeronica on Blog Talk Radio

You can join us. Here is the call-in number: (714) 364-4731.

Optimal Time for Maternal Leave Has Lifelong Health Benefits

Studies of European countries with substantially longer paid maternity leave find that the benefits of up to 40 weeks off are huge. Not only does it reduce infant deaths, according to Sharon Lerner, writing for Slate:

One study tracked Norwegian children who were born after 1977, when that country increased its paid leave from zero to four months and its unpaid leave from three to 12 months, and found that the kids born after the change had lower high school dropout rates. Military draft data, moreover, tied lengthened leaves to increases in male IQ (and height, too).

Lerner looks at several studies showing benefits of longer maternal leave periods, although the reasons aren't entirely clear. It's possible that it's simply that women with better, better-paying jobs have plenty of other resources to keep their babies and children healthy and engaged.

Is 40 Weeks the Ideal Maternity Leave Length?

Empathy Linked to Gene -- and We Can Tell

Variations in the genes for oxytocin receptors may influence empathy -- and we can tell who's got them in 20 seconds.

In the study, by Aleksandr Kogan of UC Berkeley, 24 couples provided DNA samples and then the couples recounted to each other a time when they had suffered. The conversations were videotaped.

Then, observers wached 20-second segments of the videos and were asked to rate each person as kind, trustworthy and compassionate. The observers tended to pick the people in the couples who hada variation in the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype.

It's interesting enough that empathy might be linked to variations in our genes. And also interesting that we humans are so exquisitely sensitive to social cues that we can easily and quickly pick this out.

PsychCentral has more on the study of oxytocin and empathy.

Here's the study:

SNP on OXTR Impacts Behavioral Prosociality Displays

See also Variations in Oxytocin Gene Influence Optimism

Romantic Chemistry May Be Genetic

The Connection Continuum

3048731033_1f1fce7744_b You may think that the pleasure of sexual climax is miracle enough. But an orgasm is even more miraculous than that. It’s an essential element of the biological and spiritual mechanism that connects us to each other and to the universe.

Jerry M. Lewis, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and author of “Reflections: On Relationships with Self and Others,” describes what he calls the Oneness Continuum. He says, “Starting with baseline reality, the continuum moves to aesthetic experiences (sunsets and symphonies) to romantic love. Next come numinous experiences (spiritual-religious), cosmic consciousness, and progressive trance states. The continuum ends with experiences of ‘absolute unity,’ which includes the obliteration of time and space.”

I like the idea of placing these experiences on a continuum, and I’d like to expand his idea to encompass even more. The experiences Dr. Lewis describes are states of connection with something outside ourselves. I call it the Connection Continuum, and I would include many more kinds of personal connection.

The Connection Continuum

In our culture, we place so much emphasis on romantic love that we forget about the myriad of other connections we make with each other. Even as we go about daily life, we can enjoy moments of connection with strangers, for example, when we exchange a smile with someone we’re passing in the street or say a kind word to the person who hands us our coffee.

Don’t ignore or dismiss these moments. Humans are social creatures who cannot thrive without contact with others. Each time we connect with someone else, it’s a gift of health and well-being, thanks to a chemical called oxytocin.

You may have heard of oxytocin’s role in mothering. It’s essential for giving birth and breastfeeding; and at the same time, it’s responsible for the love a mother feels for her baby. Or, you may have heard it be called the cuddle hormone. In fact, oxytocin seems to play an important role in every kind of positive human interaction.

At every place on the Connection Continuum, I believe, you’ll find oxytocin. Scientists have already identified its influence in money exchanges between strangers, at the lower end of the Connection Continuum.

The Real God Molecule?
It makes beautiful sense that our brains use the same chemistry for the connections at each end of the Connection Continuum, from the fleeting kindness of a stranger to the deep sense of dependence and love we may feel for our mothers. What’s more amazing is that we also use this chemistry for all the other kinds of connection—with lovers, friends, pets, people we do business with, even sports teams and actors. (Scientists haven’t confirmed that oxytocin is involved in these more abstract kinds of connection, but do these connections make as much sense to you as they do to me?)

At the Spirit or Oneness end of the Continuum, researchers have shown that people singing in a choir have elevated levels of oxytocin. Science probably won’t pursue oxytocin’s influence on religious experience, but I’m ready to nominate it as the true god molecule. I believe that oxytocin is the basis for the experience of merging not only with another person, but with Oneness, Spirit or God (as we know him or her).

There’s one real oxytocin hotspot on the Connection Continuum: orgasm. When our bodies go into orgasm, our brains release a flood of oxytocin into the bloodstream and into the brain. Oxytocin travels through the arteries to open the blood vessels, relax the smooth muscles, and create warmth and relaxation. At the same time, it sears the brain with recognition that this other person was the source of so much pleasure.

As humans evolved to be smarter and live longer, this sense of deep connection and bonding was essential for keeping a baby’s mother and father together so that they could keep their child safe and healthy. At the same time, the regular doses of oxytocin produced by the couple’s orgasms kept them healthier.

Orgasm and Connection
What if we reconsider orgasm itself? Instead of something that we need to get from someone else in order to feel good, what would change if we thought of orgasm as a miraculous method of connecting with another person—or even connecting with the universe?

I’d like to suggest that we enlarge our definition of orgasm to include any and every experience of oxytocin. Expanding this definition can expand our range of feeling, bringing more pleasure and fulfillment into everyday life. When we enhance our ability to connect this way—every day—we can live in union with each other and the universe.

This article originally appeared in Vision Magazine.

Photo by Mike Baird.

Huggies Promotes Oxytocin

This is brilliant marketing that also serves the social good. Think about it: Diapers, babies, hugs and mommies. It's a natural fit.

Oh! In fact, that's the name of the product. Huggies Natural Fit is working with parenting expert Dr. Carol Cooper to to help parents further understand the importance of cuddling and the actual cuddle hormone, oxytocin.

Huggies released a survey which found that two thirds of new mothers were unaware of the importance of oxytocin in bonding with their babies. The good news is that more than half strongly believe that cuddling is important for creating a stronger bond.

Oh, wait a minute. That figure is 55 percent. Only 55 percent of mothers know it's important to cuddle their babies? Eek! I hope Huggies can help.

Feel Bad? Phone Mom

But only if you love her...

Twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls who had phone calls with their mothers had an oxytocin response that counteracted stress.

The research, by Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, included only girls who reported good relationships with their mothers. (For some people, talking on the phone to Mom is stressful in itself.)

Interestingly, instant messaging with mothers did not produce the oxytocin response in this study.

Earlier research by Seth Pollack, also of U of Wisconsin, found the same effect in girls seven to 12 years old.

If your relationship with your mother is rocky, you will likely get the same benefit by calling a good friend or other family member.


Love That Limbic Resonance

5875063116_5ec017c330_m The New York Times published a fascinating article about research monitoring the heart rates of villagers in San Pedro Manrique, Spain, as they watch the annual ritual of firewalking.


Each year, on June 25, they celebrate the summer solstice by walking barefoot across a 25-foot-long bed of burning embers, each carrying a relative or friend on the back. The researchers wanted to compare the heart rates of the firewalkers to those of spectators, hoping to uncover the physiological basis of community feeling. According to the article,


The heart rates of relatives and friends of the fire-walkers followed an almost identical pattern to the fire-walkers' rates, spiking and dropping almost in synchrony. The heart rates of visiting spectators did not. The relatives' rates synchronized throughout the event, which lasted 30 minutes, with 28 fire-walkers each making five-second walks. So relatives or friends' heart rates matched a fire-walker's rate before, during and after his walk. Even people related to other fire-walkers showed similar patterns.


... Said Michael Richardson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, "It shows that being connected to someone is not just in the mind. There are these fundamental physiological behavioral moments that are occurring continuously with other people that we're not aware of."


Although we may not normally be aware of this connection, it's well-known as the state of limbic resonance. In limbic resonance, the bodies of two or more people harmonize: the breathing rate becomes similar, heart rates synch, physical postures and gestures may match. Because breath and heart rate are controlled by chemicals in the bloodstream and brain, it's also likely that people in resonance also synch up biochemically.


Limbic resonance is best known between mother and baby. In fact, a newborn's nervous system is not capable of regulating itself. A baby needs to be near a grown-up body in order to settle and soothe. This is why infants deprived of physical contact fail to thrive. The mother or primary caregiver actually guides the baby's nervous system as it tunes in to the mother's. This drive to synch with another person's nervous system remains with us throughout our lives.


Orgasmic meditation derives much of its power and pleasure from the state of limbic resonance. OM is an opportunity to experience another person's body and to sink into that state of physical unity in a direct and conscious way. In a larger OM circle, everyone in the room can come into resonance, even if they are not OMing.  


And, of course, orgasm is a reliable way to get oxytocin flowing through the bloodstream, where it triggers the relaxation response, improves healing, reduces pain and anxiety and generally tunes the body up. Sex seems to be "designed" to not only bring us closer but to make us healthier.


PHOTO: idontlikeribera

Should a 5-Year-Old Learn to Breastfeed?

A new doll originating from Spain aims to teach girls how to breastfeed. The doll reacts to sensors in a halter worn by the kid, making sucking and gulping sounds when its mouth comes close to two "nipples."

Evidently this is creating controversy among parents, some of whom find it creepy or ... somehow .. just wrong.

Video on the company's website shows an actual baby sucking at an actual breast -- something usually relegated to the depths of breastfeeding education sites.


Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky said,

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the breastfeeding doll, per se; it just may be a bit too complex of a subject for a child who still watches “Dora The Explorer” and occasionally wets her pants.

Tom Henderson of ParentDish shows just how deep the discomfort with breastfeeding can run. He snarks:

Are you one of these people who find yourself ever-so creeped out by the sight of a woman breast-feeding her baby in public?

Oh, you ain't see nothing yet.

Picture a 7-year-old girl -- or boy, for that matter -- strapping on little flowered falsies so a baby doll can suckle the imaginary breasts -- complete with slurping and gurgling sounds.

When I first read about Breast Milk Baby, I did feel a bit of disturb. I visualized a pair of plastic breasts like those hideous things they sell for Halloween costumes. When I saw the photos, I changed my mind.

The top is simple and girly, with little flowers instead of nipples.

Most of the anti-doll people quoted in news reports say it's making little girls grow up too soon -- even though pretending to do adult things, including feeding a doll with a bottle and playing dressup -- or playing soldier -- is one of the most common ways for kids to play.

I think these folks are really expressing their own over-sexualization of the breast, which is one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding.