Rare Chance to Hear from Sue Carter

Sue Carter,  the University of Illinois scientist who helped discover how oxytocin helps us bond, is doing a $50 webinar for the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association.

Her work with prairie voles helped solve the mystery of human attachment. But she hasn't had as high a profile as some other oxytocin researchers.

Here's the promo for the webinar, held April 7, from 3:30 to 5 EDT:

Sue Carter, PhD is Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of The Brain Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Dr. Carter studies the neurobiology of socio-emotional behaviors, including social bonds and parental behavior.  Her work also led to the discovery that oxytocin and vasopressin can program the developing nervous system with life-long consequences for brain and behavior.   She has authored over 250 articles and edited 5 volumes including “Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis” (MIT Press, 2006). Dr. Carter has served as President of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society, and was recipient of a Research Career Scientist Award from NIH.

Sign up for the webinar with Sue Carter.


Oxytocin for Couples Therapy? Why Not?

A chiropractor in Phoenix is giving patients oxytocin lozenges to help them connect better.

I've written before about studies examining whether oxytocin could make couples therapy go better by increasing empathy.

Sorry to redirect you, folks, but this other -- paying -- blog gig I have is all about the page views.

Please read my story, The Couple's Love Drug. It has links to my previous posts, as well as to a good article on Time.com and the story about the chiropractor.

Romance Is a Great Painkiller

No wonder we get addicted to romance. It's a natural painkiller.

Arthur Aron, a SUNY Stonybrook neuroscientist who studies love, and Sean Mackey, the chief of Stanford University School of Medicine's pain management center teamed up on a study that found that both love and pain activate the same brain circuits.

Students in love felt less pain while staring at a picture of their significant others. In addition, love acted through the same brain pathway as several strong painkillers and addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

It's important to note that these were college students who had been "passionately in love" for less than nine months, so they were definitely in the romantic, dopamine-fueled state, not the oxytocin-supported committed love state.

BTW, London's Daily Express has a bit more on this, as well as other ways that love and relationship make us healthier and happier.

Romantic Chemistry May be Genetic

A fascinating study shows that folks who have a special kind of dopamine receptor tend to become friends. In this case, it's DRD2, a gene sequence involved in producing a dopamine receptor, which is a marker for alcoholism. (Dopamine is the brain chemical of reward-seeking and reward; it's involved in addiction to substances, thrill-seeking and romance.)

In the article in Medical News Today, James H. Fowler, of the division of medical genetics at the University of California, San Diego explains:

"We live in a sea of genes. What happens to us may not depend only on our genes but on the genes of our friends. This might be the first step towards understanding the biology of 'chemistry,' the feeling you have of you whether you like or dislike a person [almost immediately]. We might choose friends not [only] because of social features we consciously notice but because of biological and even genetic features that we unconsciously notice. "

He talks about the relationship between genes and behavior, and how this may cause us to bond with people like us. And he also discusses his findings that in some cases, people with a genetic marker for openness tend to flock with their opposites.

We Really Do "Love" Brands

For a long time, I've thought that advertising can evoke the oxytocin response, making us feel bonded to products or companies.  A new USC study shows that we do feel emotional attachment to brands.

The study shows that brand attachment can be strong enough to induce separation anxiety if our favorite product is replaced.

The study’s key findings include:
•The more strongly a consumer’s attachment to a brand, the more willing they are to forsake personal resources to maintain an ongoing relationship with the brand. They are willing to engage in difficult behaviors — “those that require investments of time, money and energy, so as to maintain or deepen a brand relationship.”
•Highly attached consumers are more motivated to devote their own resources in the process of self-expansion, including paying more, defending the brand, derogating alternatives, and devoting more time to the brand through brand communities and brand promotion through social media.
•Attachment represented by both brand-self-connection and prominence is a significantly better predictor than brand attitude strength of actual behaviors.

The study I'd like to see: Measuring subjects' oxytocin levels as they gaze as ads and logos.

The current study from USC's Marshall School of Business:

Brand Attachment and Brand Attitude Strength: Conceptual and Empirical Differentiation of Two Critical Brand Equity Drivers,” a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Marketing, is co-authored by USC Marshall’s C. Whan Park, Joseph A. DeBell Professor of Marketing; Deborah J. MacInnis, Vice Dean of Research and Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration; and Joseph Priester, Associate Professor of Marketing; along with Andreas B. Eisingerich, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Imperial College (London) Business School; and Dawn Iacobucci, E. Bronson Ingram Professor in Marketing, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University

Family Connection Boosts School Performance

We're beginning to understand more and more about how important early nurturing is for brain development. A secure home environment does more than build a baby's attachment system. It also can set the tone for how a child manages in the school environment.

According to Science Daily, University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Mark Cummings found that a family's relational style affected school behavior. The three styles he describes map to the attachment styles identified by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. They called them secure, anxious and dismissive; Cummings describes families as either cohesive, enmeshed or detached.

According to the article:

"Coming from a cohesive family, in which members tend to be warm and responsive to one another, where problems are resolved, and members cope well, increases the likelihood of children doing well in school," according to Cummings.

Skin Contact Reduces Risk of Postpartum Depression

We all need skin-to-skin contact with other humans. Period.

This contact is vital for newborns. Placing the newborn on her mother's chest as soon as possible after birth seems to trigger the reflex of crawling up to the breast and nursing.

A new study shows that ongoing skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby can increase attachment and reduce the risk of postpartum depression. According to the National Post:

The study also looked at how skin-to-skin contact affects babies’ cognitive functions and their relationships with their mothers.

And infant is also more aware when awake and sleeps more deeply while lying skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest, Dr. Bigelow says.

Even a Phone Call Can Boost Oxytocin

This is a really neat study, reported by MSNBC.  Like a lot of the human oxytocin studies, it validates something that feels true already. In fact, this study, by Seth Pollak at the University of Wisconsin, validates a couple things:

First, talking to your mom on the phone can be just as powerful as being cuddled in person. Second, that technology-mediated interactions can feel just as "real" as face-to-face.

In the study, girls 7 to 12 years old had to solve math problems in front of judges, a stress-producing situation. Afterward, one group of girls got together with their moms for hugs and kisses. A second group called their mothers on the phone for verbal reassurance. The third group watched a heart-warming movie. 

The researchers measured the girls' blood levels of cortisol and oxytocin before the math and again after the cool-down. They found higher oxytocin and lower cortisol not only in girls who got cuddles but also in the girls who talked to their mothers on the phone.

According to MSNBC's Linda Carroll,

The study results may not apply to every mother-child pair. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

“The reason we chose pre-pubertal children is that, for the most part, they still really do like to be comforted by their parents. As kids get older the relationship can get more complicated and strained.”

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

No kidding. I think my mother's voice probably would raise my cortisol levels.

What Should Boobs Be For?

Despite the pretty much incontrovertible evidence that breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby, and despite all the public info campaigns, less than one-third of American babies enjoy the breast by three months of age.

In my new Psychology Today blog, I asked whether this was due to our culture's obsession with breasts as sexual signifiers. Do you want hot and perky boobs, or breasts that are soft and even stretch-marked -- plus a happy, healthy baby?

I just wish this was a no-brainer question. Please read the post at Psychology Today.