Is He a Cheater?

Paul Zak, the guy who showed that oxytocin affects all sorts of positive human emotions, as well inventing the field of neuroeconomics, posted five tests you can use to discover whether a man is likely to stay faithful.

The tests illuminate the relationship between oxytocin, vasopressin and testosterone. If that recipe isn't just right, a man's more likely to be a seed-scatterer than a bacon-bringing-homer.

They're smart, science-based, and most of them you can do yourself without the need for lab tests. I covered his post in the blog I write at LifeGoesStrong.com, and I'm afraid that, in what is certainly recursive but necessary in this link-crazy world, I am cycling you through that in order to read his post. Is that too, too awful?


Why Dad Should Be in the Delivery Room

Ann Douglas at The Mother of All Parenting Blogs talks about the special challenge of taking her 12-year-old son with Asperger's to the orthodontist.

Her husband was the one who took their son for the dreaded extraction, and Douglas credits the strong father/son bond to the moments right after delivery, when he held the newborn in his arms while she got stitches. 

I strongly disagree with the idea that men should be barred from the delivery room because they'll make the laboring woman too tense.


Rewriting Parenting for Kids with RAD and ODD - Free Webinar

Bryan Post is a psychologist who does ground-breaking work with families of kids who have severe behavior problems, mostly as the result of early trauma from adoption or spending time in the foster system. 

His approach takes into account the dynamics of the whole family, recognizing that a parent's anger or inability to connect can further traumatize the child. Post was himself an adopted and disruptive child. Now, at the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy and in workshops around the country, he helps parents learn to provide the brain-shaping experiences their children missed.

Bryan thinks that a parent's own attachment issues can get in the way of seeing that a child's out-of-control behavior comes from fear, not, as it often seems, from maliciousness, defiance, or an evil nature.  Once parents can remove their own fears from the relationship, it's easier for them to heal the child's fear. Sessions with parents begin with whatever behaviors or problems seem most critical to them. While the end goal certainly is to help the child develop into a loving, happy, and responsible member of the family, these first steps are as much about guiding the parents into a deeper understanding of themselves.In interviewed Bryan and included his work in my book. Since then, his model has evolved to include the new science of oxytocin and bonding. In fact, he and I are collaborating on a new book, tentatively titled Oxytocin Parenting.

Whether you are parent to a child who's been diagnosed with a disorder like RAD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder, or are looking for a better way to parent, Bryan has practical approaches that help you create better bonds with your children -- which leads to better behavior and a happier home.You can learn how to use the new science of oxytocin and attachment to help your kid in a free webinar next Thursday, April 8, at 9 p.m. EDT. To reserve your spot, register at http://postinstitute.com/webinar/.

Bryan is an inspiring, emotional teacher. Joining him will be Helene Timpone, LCSW, who's an expert in parenting teen-aged girls. I highly recommend this event. And I'm honored that they will feature my book. 


Touch Lubricates Sports -- and every other interaction

The New York Times reports on new research from Dacher Keltner of the University of California at Berkeley. Keltner, author of Born to Be Good, has done a lot of exciting work showing oxytocin's effects on positive social interactions that don't reach the level of bonding and love.

The latest study, by Michael W. Kraus, Cassy Huang, analyzed how much pro basketball players touched each other. They found that, mostly, the teams that touched each other the most were better teams. (As opposed to simply winning, which could account for more touching such as high-fives, the researchers used a scoring method that took into account other things in addition to scoring.)

Teams that made physical contact with each other more often tended to not only do better but to "get more out of" the game. (The article doesn't define this, and the study is still unpublished.)

According to Times writer Benedict Carey,

The touchiest player was Kevin Garnett, the Celtics’ star big man, followed by star forwards Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and Carlos Boozer of the Utah Jazz. “Within 600 milliseconds of shooting a free throw, Garnett has reached out and touched four guys,” Dr. Keltner said.

Scientists and psychologists have long known that touch is important in families and between lovers or mates. This is another example of how that oxytocin boost that comes with warm and friendly touch can improve all kinds of human interactions.


Why Your Heart and Your Head Don't Always Agree

Dear Susan,

I read Rachel's post and I was wondering what your take would be on my present dilemma. I've got mixed feelings towards my best male friend, who is also an online friend. We've known each other for almost two years now, and it's safe to say that I know most of him. I'm not naive, I made sure he wasn't just some old 35 year old perv from maine or whatever.

My problem is, I don't know how I feel about him anymore. It was platonic for most of the time that I knew him, but I guess I got really attached to him as time went by. I do care about him deeply, but we had some really rough times together.

I've got a lot of bitterness towards him, which I think definitely effects my conduct towards him, even though I try to not let that happen. I get angry and irritated at him for all the mixed signals, dramatics and insensitive moves that he keeps throwing at me, but for the past week, i keep thinking that this is no longer on a platonic plane for me. I feel at home with him sometimes, and it doesn't help that I have commitment issues, and we both have self-esteem issues. I have trust issues as well.

 Neither of us are looking for a relationship, yet I know that we both hope for something real in the future.

I can't even talk to him about this, because nothing will be the same. He's just too dramatic a character even though he appears to be calm and collected.

He rejected the idea of being with me a few months back, and besides I personally think that our goals, values and lifestyle just don't suit each other. More often then not, we're not even on the same page.

I've tried staying away from him several times before, but it never has really worked. I'm trying it again, and am hoping that these feelings will go away. However, what I don't get it, why do I feel this way about him?

My mind does not agree with my heart, but at the same time, part of my heart does. It remembers all the hurt that he has managed to cause. What do I do? What do I think? Please let me know what your take is on all this. Thank you in advance. Sorry for taking so much of your time. Have a good day! :)

Dear Ani,

Thank you for sharing your story. Here's what I got from your post: You feel like you're falling in love with your friend of two years. However, while you care for him, your relationship has been rocky. Intellectually, you don't think that you two are a good match for many reasons, and yet you can't let go of this feeling. Please let me know if I've got this wrong.

I think this is a pretty common emotional situation. I am thinking of a boyfriend I had, with whom I had brutal fights that seemed to come out of nowhere. But it happened so many times before we gave up, because I loved and wanted him so much.

You don't say whether you and your friend have ever hung out in person. If it's strictly an online friendship, then you are likely missing a lot of nonverbal cues and clues that might make his signals clearer -- even if you're having video chats, it's not the same as being in the same room. So, it could be that both of you are taking things the other says the wrong way. It could also be that if you could spend more time in physical proximity, you would realize that it really would not work.

You have doubtlessly built up an oxytocin charge in this relationship. Any time we engage in trusting interactions, including talking about feelings, ideals or dreams, we release oxytocin. This oxytocin bonds us to the other person, and it's a very good thing. We experience this feeling as our heart telling us something.

I think that a strong dopamine element may also be in play in this friendship. Dopamine is the brain chemical that makes us go after a reward. It's also involved in pleasure, and it combines with oxytocin to make us feel in love with someone else.

But here's the thing about dopamine: We get lots of it when we're trying to get the reward, but as soon as we actually get it, the dopamine levels drop.

I have found that getting mixed signals from a potential mate is the best way to get hopeless entangled and even obsessed. If someone will just tell me he doesn't want me, I can get over it. But when he sometimes wants me and sometimes rejects me, I stop being able to think about anything else but how to get a relationship with him.

I wonder if this is what's going on with you. The part of your brain that analyzes and makes decisions doesn't think this man is right for you as a mate. But the reward-seeking part of your brain keeps getting come/go away signals from him, so it is getting more and more focused on obtaining this prize -- and it's telling the thinking part of your brain that it's wrong.

Taking some time off from this relationship is probably a good thing -- but only if you can keep from thinking about him all the time. The best way to do this is to substitute going after some other kind of reward. The substitute reward doesn't have to be super-exciting, actually. Learning something new, going to an exciting movie, skiing … try to do something fun every day.

I know this guy is your best friend, but I hope you haven't neglected other friends. This is a great time to get some emotional support and love from other people. (Just be sure not to spend all your time with them talking about this relationship.)

Once you get your brain chemistry more balanced, your heart and your head can have another talk and make a decision about where you want this to go.

NY Mag Gives Props to Dog Love

In a New York Magazine article exploring just how goofy some of us get about our dogs (I'm guilty!), John Homan explores the basis of that love, which is, of course, oxytocin.

If you click through from Andrew Sullivan's blog on The Daily Dish, you'll get right to the oxytocin part, which has been highlighted. Slick!

I always advise people that stroking a dog -- yours or someone else's -- is a great way to get an instant oxytocin boost.


Pillow Talk for Kids

with Jasvir Singh

Not enough time to nurture your children in the day?  Nurture them in their sleep as well.  

We are not born knowing how to love—the kind of mothering we get shapes our oxytocin response. How many oxytocin receptors the baby brain develops depends on the nurturing, love and intimacy the baby gets in the first months of life. These days, parents are often so busy that it can be difficult to give their child the amount of love they need.

According to Nancy Beck, a good way to nurture a child is through pillow talk—a message you can deliver while you’re child is sleeping.  Beck, BSN, RN, developed a book called "Pillow Talk: Loving Affirmations to Encourage and Guide Your Children," that explains this unique parenting skill. She says that pillow talk is an effective and easy way to infuse children with love while they are asleep.

She explains how to give your child life- and love-affirming messages that will remind him or her that your loving presence is constant.

Beck's concept is not the same as subliminal learning; nor is it a form of brainwashing.  Pillow talk will not override a child’s free will. It shouldn’t be used to convince a child to do anything or alter their thoughts---rather, she says, it is there to support one’s nurturing parenting skills day and night. Pillow talk can help your child develop a strong oxytocin response that allows them to grow up to be more confident, less worried, and connect with others more deeply. You can view Nancy’s article on Pillow Talk and find out about her book on her website, NurseNancyTalk.com.

Sometimes, a hard-working parent can't even get home in time to spend an affectionate hour or two while kids are awake. Nancy's book reminds us that we can  help shape a healthy oxytocin response and build a strong bond with our children at any time of day or night.


Your Baby's Smile Is a Real Rush

with Jasvir Singh

It's not exactly late-breaking news that seeing your baby smile is one of life's simplest but deepest pleasures. But a Baylor College professor used brain scans to show just how rewarding it is.

Lane Strathearn, an assistant professor of pediatrics at at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, and a research associate in BCM’s Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, found that the reward centers in mothers' brains were activated when they saw their babies smile. (For you science geeks, those areas were the ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra regions, the striatum, and frontal lobe regions, all of which are involved in emotion processing, cognition and motor/behavioral outputs.) The activation was similar to those activated by drug addiction.

Strathearn has conducted research for the past nine years aimed to develop a better understanding of the pervasive problem of child neglect. A goal of his research has been to link early experiences in mothers with the relationship they develop with their children, and understand the biological mechanisms underlying this connection. An earlier study of his found that women who breastfed were less likely to neglect their children.

According to a story from Queensland University's media office about his work (Strathearn is a graduate):

"Our subsequent study showed that the hormone, oxytocin, which is involved in breastfeeding, is also related to secure attachment in mothers and to brain 'reward' activation when they view pictures of their baby," Dr Strathearn said. The study addresses the importance of this initial mother-infant relationship.

 Now, he's doing a study to see whether inhaling oxytocin influences how their brains respond to their babies.

Strathearn thinks that increasing demands for mothers to balance family and work life has caused the basic needs of children to fall lower and lower on the priority list. Unfortunately, physical and emotional neglect is often the result.

 


The Case for Harm from Pitocin in Labor

Christof Plothe is a doctor of osteopathy who works at a pediatric clinic in Alzy, Germany.

His paper, in press for 2010 publication in the International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, reviews the scientific literature on oxytocin in relation to bonding between mother and child, and then examines studies showing effects of oxytocin or Pitocin (a synthetic brand) used during labor.

Plothe writes,

"For over 50 years Oxytocin has been used in modern obstetrics during  birth. Whilst the physiological aspects of the hormone have been  studied intensely the psychological mechanisms of its function have  only started to be known since the nineties of the last century. I  have been working with newborns for over a decade now and observed  fundamental differences after the oxytocin related births in the  babies, later in the adolescents and even in the adults. The  article is a summary of the contemporary research  of Oxytocin and hypothesizes that Oxytocin can have a lifelong   imprinting on the psyche when used during the delivery. 

He has observed that some children seem "oxytocin-imbalanced." These kids may be insecure, have difficulty with school work, and problems with relationships within the family. Plothe has been treating some with oxytocin, and found that such symptoms improved or even disappeared.

He calls for more studies and discussion among health professionals and researchers to try to determine how much modern birth practices may have lifelong consequences.

You can read the entire paper here: The perinatal application of oxytocin and its potential influence on the human psyche.


Autism Gene Linked to Empathy


A variation in a gene for the oxytocin receptor helps determine how much empathy a person has, according to a new study.

Sarina Rodrigues, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University and  Laura Saslow, a UC Berkeley psychology graduate student, compared four variations in the OXTR gene. They found that people who inherited one specific combo were much more likely to be able to identify emotions in the "mind-reading" test, and also described themselves as generally mellow and less likely to get stressed.

From the UC Berkeley press release:

All humans inherit a variation of this gene or "allele" from each parent. The UC Berkeley study looked at the three combinations of gene variations of the oxytocin receptor. The most empathetic – able to get an accurate read on others' emotions – had two copies of the "G allele." In contrast, members of the AA and AG allele groups were found to be less capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others and more likely to get stressed out in difficult situations.

This study is a counterpoint to the recent research from Duke University showing that differences in the methylation of genes that regulate the expression of oxytocin receptors correlated with autism.