Hey, Internet. It’s science here wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day. And we do mean happy—we wouldn’t be here if there weren’t any oxygen in the air right?
Let’s start with a pretty picture. Copy all of the below mathematical function and enter it into Google. Just do it.
sqrt(6-x^2), -sqrt(6-x^2) from -4.5 to 4.5
…and links to the best V-Day science out there:
That soap opera cliche of someone clutching their chest and kneeling over dead after finding out a dead lover has some science behind it. Sudden shocks—even positive ones like winning the lottery—can cause a massive release of adrenaline, causing the heart to freeze up. The hearts of patients who die from this take on a distinctive shape resembling a Japanese octopus trap, which is where the name takotsubo cardiomyopathy comes from.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, writers dig up the origin of the holiday to talk about naked Romans. Sorry, we’re not immune to it either. Those pagan Romans used to run around naked with whips, hitting young women to increase their fertility. (Seriously? Dinner plans are looking so much better now.) Then, the Church pegged that pagan celebration to the story of St. Valentine, so today we have chocolate and roses and singing valentines. We’re not really sure what those have to do with St. Valentine either.
The “love hormone” oxytocin makes you more empathetic and generous and, as it turns out, also more racist and less trustful. Huh? Ed Yong, who’s covered this before on his blog, writes on the latest hypothesis about oxytocin at New Scientist. Instead of just making us feel cuddly, it helps direct our attention to salient social cues in the environment. And what’s salient, of course, depends on the environment.
Since Facebook tracks both your relationship status to and what songs you listen to when (among other things), they put it together and released a list of most popular songs when starting new relationships and breaking up. We’re only surprised that Adele doesn’t have a monopoly on the breakup list.
Oldies but goodies. Two pieces comparing the types of men and women you date with the types of physics you might encounter. Did you know that the derivative of acceleration is called jerk? Just saying some of these remind us of that.
Elsewhere on DISCOVER, you’ve got the hearts of space (love really is universal), animals that don’t have sex (sex is not so universal), and right here on Discoblog’s NCBI ROFL is the Valentine’s week archive. Get lovin’.
Artists and storytellers devote much time to showing the wondrous powers of love. And it seems that scientists are also attuned to studying love, and through such studies they’ve made an interesting discovery: love may shield you—at least partially—against pain because of the feelings of safety it provides.
Who ever thought that couples could bond over nasal spray? But new research shows that a nasal spray containing the “love hormone” oxytocin helped make regular guys more empathetic and less gruff. Oxytocin is the hormone that strengthens the bond between nursing moms and their babies, and it’s also involved in pair bonding, love, and sex.
The spray was tested on a group of 48 healthy males–half received a spritz of the nose spray at the start of the experiment and the other half received a placebo. The researchers then showed their test subjects emotion-inducing photos like a bawling child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man. Finally, they asked the guys to express how they felt.
The placebo group men reacted normally to the soppy pictures; which is to say they were either mildly uncomfortable or stoic. Whereas the group that had used the nasal spray were markedly more empathetic. The Register reports:
“The males under test achieved levels [of emotion] which would normally only be expected in women,” says a statement from Bonn University, indicating that they had cooed or even blubbed at the sight of the affecting images.
The study’s findings, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, suggest one trite application of the hormonal spray: Maybe a woman could give her undemonstrative husband a quick spritz to get him to really feel her pain, or to get him to coo over a kitten properly. But there might be a larger medical purpose too.
Researchers recently found that a dose of oxytocin can help autistic people become less awkward and more social. Now, they’re hoping that medication can also be developed to help socially withdrawn schizophrenics.
80beats: Study: The “Love Hormone” Oxytocin Can Improve Autistic People’s Social Skills
80beats: The “Love Hormone” Oxytocin Helps People Recognize Faces They’ve Seen Before
DISCOVER: A Dose of Human Kindness, Now in Chemical Form
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we bring you the story of how hearts really can break. Doctors do occasionally diagnose someone with “broken heart syndrome,” but the patients aren’t necessarily the lovelorn dump-ees of the world.
The heart problem, which is more technically known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can be brought on by all kinds of emotional and physical stresses. Externally, someone with broken heart syndrome may appear to be having a heart attack, but the physical mechanism is actually quite different.
ABC News reports:
While a heart attack is usually caused by blocked arteries, medical experts believe broken heart syndrome is caused by a surge in adrenaline and other hormones. When patients experience an adrenaline rush in the aftermath of a stressful situation, the heart muscle may be overwhelmed and become temporarily weakened.
Oxytocin is the brain’s love hormone—without it, we might not ever fall in love or attempt monogamy. We know that the hormone releases “happy” feelings during events from nursing to orgasm, and is the reason why people feel a chemical “bond” with a partner. And now, scientists have found that the hormone can also boost the sex appeal of complete strangers.
A University of Bristol study tested 96 men and women in a double-blind test by spraying them with either oxytocin or a plecebo. The subjects were then asked to rate pictures of 48 men and women for attractiveness, and 30 for trustworthiness. Sure enough, the participants that had sniffed the love hormone tended to rate the random people in the pictures as better looking or more trustworthy.
Psychologist Angeliki Theodoriduou, who led the study, found that regardless of their gender or mood, the people under the influence of oxytocin were more likely to like the strangers in the pictures.
While the researchers didn’t look at why oxytocin has such pull, they reckon the hormone’s effect on the brain is so strong that it suppresses any fearful emotions people would normally feel.
Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer is married to the Berlin Wall. Like any couple, they’ve had their ups and downs, but over the years, they’ve been able to meet each other’s spiritual and emotional needs. “We even made it through the terrible disaster of 9 November 1989, when my husband was subjected to frenzied attacks by a mob. But we are still as much in love as the day we met,” Berliner-Mauer said last year.
Berliner-Mauer (the German name for the Berlin Wall, which she has taken as her last name) has since defined her love under the term “objectum sexual,” or OS—in other words, a person who falls in love with inanimate objects. As an animist, she, along with a growing group of others, believe that inanimate objects are sentient, intelligent beings.
Take Erika Eiffel, who is married to the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel says she recalls being attracted to objects even as a child, and realized she was different only when she saw other people at school dating each other, while she was dating a bridge.
Think he’s just not that into you? Turns out you can figure it out from his smell—more specifically, through the subconscious signals he’s sending out through chemicals in his sweat. The researchers found that a man’s scent is different when he’s sexually aroused than when he’s not—and women can tell the difference.
Psychologist Denise Chen at Rice University asked 20 heterosexual men to refrain from using deodorant and use scent-free shampoo and soap when showering. The men were then asked to watch videos showing “sexual intercourse between heterosexual couples” for 20 minutes. The researchers put pads in the subjects’ armpits to collect their sweat, and hooked the men up to electrodes to measure their sexual excitement. Then the men were asked to collect their sweat while they watched educational documentaries, so the female sniffers could compare.
The researchers then hooked 19 women up to brain scans and asked each of them to smell the pads and describe the sweat as floral, sweaty/human, other, and no smell. The women couldn’t distinguish between sexual sweat and “neutral” sweat, further suggesting that the response to sexual sweat is subconscious. But their brain scans showed something different:
Millions of Americans can’t smell, and there’s no treatment or cure for it. And if you’re on the pill, you may even have trouble sniffing out a good mate! But new research shows that falling in love can also alter a woman’s sense of smell, suggesting that smell serves as an evolutionary mechanism that reinforces monogamy.
Johan Lundstrom, primary investigator at the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Monell Chemical Senses Center, found that when women are deeply in love, they lose some of their ability to differentiate the smells of their male friends.
To test this theory, Lundstrom took 20 female volunteers and measured how in love they were by having them fill out a questionnaire called the Passionate Love Scale. The women were asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 1 to 9 for questions such as:
I sense my body responding when [BOYFRIEND] touches me.
Sometimes I feel I can’t control my thoughts; they are obsessively on [BOYFRIEND].
I’d get jealous if I thought [BOYFRIEND] was falling in love with someone else.
Lundstrom then gave a T-shirt to each of the women’s boyfriends, one female friend, and one male friend, in order to collect body odor samples.