February 10th, 2009 at 8:47 pm (raven)
For a few years I’ve intermittently campaigned for the renaming of Valentines Day to Dopamine Day. After all, that’s what it’s really about. The thrill of romantic love is largely the handiwork of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
We would celebrate Dopamine Day by engaging in activities that increase dopamine, like savoring chocolates, giving and receiving gifts, enjoying a nice meal, catching a show, and being close to your lover. Sound familiar? That’s probably because Valentines Day already is Dopamine Day but under a less specific, or at least less alliterative, name.
Dopamine Day encompasses so much more, though. It doesn’t leave single people out in the cold, like Valentines Day does. Don’t have a lover? That’s not a problem for Dopamine Day! Your potential for enjoying dopamine isn’t dependent on your relationship status. The trick for releasing dopamine is to try something novel and thrilling, like exploring a new city or skydiving or rafting. Not very adventurous? Then engaging in fantasy, like a movie or a book may be more your style. The addition of chocolate never hurts.
It seems appropriate to interject here with a pertinent factini. The brains of people who are in the crazy-in-love stage of love look like the brains of people who are high on cocaine. Now, I’m not suggesting you celebrate Dopamine Day by snorting coke; that’s too easy - and therefore dangerous. (In fact one could argue whether or not celebrating Dopamine Day with someone you are madly in love with “too easy.” I’ll let that debate slide for now.)
To really give dopamine its awe-inspiring due, it’s important to note that cocaine and other drugs are addictive because they hijack the dopamine pleasure/reward system. Dopamine feels *that good* and its pull is *that irresistible*.
So, let’s celebrate the goodness and irresistibly of dopamine, without which we would lose our zest for much of life. In fact, without dopamine to pull us in the direction of maintaining our necessary life functions, I doubt we could exist. We would certainly not be human.
I plan to celebrate Dopamine Day with a wander in the redwoods, an indulgence in a novel, and plenty of chocolate & zinfandel. Maybe I’ll surprise people with little Dopamine Day cards, too. That will help spread the love!
Hooray for dopamine!
February 8th, 2009 at 7:07 pm (raven)
Today’s factini isn’t so surprising. Kissing makes us feel less stress (lower cortisol) and more bonded (higher oxytocin), reports psychologist Wendy Hill of Lafayette College. What is interesting: while kissing causes a cortisol decrease in both men and women, oxytocin is increased more in men than in women. The researchers assume that this has to do with environment. Women need a certain atmosphere.
The hormonal changes due to kissing may have to do with pheromones exchanged in saliva, but -for maximum efficacy - I wouldn’t recommend thinking about this during the act.
The Telegraph article states:
In 2007 British scientists measured the brain and heart activity sparked by passionate kissing, but found it was less intense that the stimulation produced by eating chocolate.
Uh-huh! That’s why this Dopamine Day, I have a date with some fine chocolate. I can’t wait to touch my lips to that sweet catch!
January 20th, 2009 at 7:45 pm (raven)
oxytocin, the superglue of neurotransmitters
I recently heard about a friend of a friend of a friend hosting an oxytocin-sniffing party. I don’t know how common or rare that is, but it was new to me. I was immediately intrigued: I would love to know what the direct effects of oxytocin feel like. I mean, I *think* I know, but how fun to know for sure! Then my wiser friend cautioned that this may be more dangerous than fun.
He’s right. When female prairie voles’ brains are injected with oxytocin (usually what happens during mating), they pair-mate with the closest male, not their favorite and not the most evolutionary fit - the closest. Ewes injected with oxytocin bond to an unknown lamb like it is her own. People sniffing oxytocin are more likely to trust strangers while playing a gambling game, whether the strangers deserve it or not. Oxytocin is the superglue of neurotransmitters - care must be taken so you don’t do something dumb like mistakenly bond your fingers together.
I don’t know if sniffing oxytocin at a party would cause me to become attached to someone with whom I normally would not want to spend much time. But, um, I don’t think I’ll take the chance.
Unfortunate bonding is not only a danger at mysterious parties of indulgence. It can happen in the sober real-world, too. How wonderful it would be to sever the oxytocin and dopamine ties to someone after a break-up. Those weeks or months of weight-loss, yearning, and aching - gone.
Larry J. Youngs’s essay in Nature last week suggests that we are on the path to do just that. Our unraveling of the biochemical pathways behind love and bonding may lead to a love potion or genetic counseling for relationships, since the vasopressin receptor gene AVPR1A is linked to pair bonding ability (read: propensity to cheat) in human males.
In a New York Times article responding to Young’s essay, John Tierney argues the practicality of a love vaccine. This isn’t science fiction - an oxytocin blocker does turn normally monogamous female voles into philandering playgirls. What having blocked oxytocin would actually feel like is hard to imagine. Would the females be enjoying that sex or would it feel emptier?
I find it helps just to know what’s going on with oxytocin and dopamine and vasopressin in the various stages of becoming and being in love. Being able to manipulate these molecules in the process, like a kit of various adhesives and solvents, well, that could take some practice and I’m sure some fingers would lose a bit of skin in the mastering.