There's science in love, you know, and that means there's science in Valentine's Day. Science on Valentine's Day is like cold fusion instead of ethanol. Completely wonderful. And we have it all right here.
Not sure who to date? Garth Sundem answers it in The Valentine's Day Man-O-Meter. Be sure to take it as gospel because he never just makes stuff up.
If you're still unsure who to pursue, you may be looking in the wrong places. This study says We Want To Date People Slightly More Attractive Than We Are. How, then, does anyone get a date? It's another mystery of love.
The neurochemistry behind romance
The Beatles' George Harrison wondered in his famous love song about the "something" that "attracts me like no other lover." A University at Buffalo expert explains that that "something" is actually several physical elements that -- if they occur in a certain order, at the right time and in the right place -- can result in true love.
"There are several types of chemistry required in romantic relationships," according to Mark Kristal, professor of psychology at UB. "It seems like a variety of different neurochemical processes and external stimuli have to click in the right complex and the right sequence for someone to fall in love."
First, there's smell, made up of learned or cultural preferences, such as the smell of a dozen long-stemmed red roses.
"Smell forms part of the framework that conforms to cultural attractiveness standards; for example, smelling like a strawberry instead of mildew," he says. Next, there are pheromones, which are more mysterious to us humans.
"Pheromones are unlearned, and perhaps unsmellable, signals that enter the brain through the olfactory system. They can function in sex, alarm, territoriality, aggression, and fear," Kristal said, adding that while sex attractant pheromones may explain changes in libido, they don't explain why we choose a specific person for a mate.
"In humans, specific mates are more probably chosen on the basis of other sensory cues: visual, regular olfactory, auditory and tactile cues," Kristal notes. And these cues, especially smell, strengthen with time.
"After a certain amount of bonding, specific mates may be more recognizable to each other by smells rather than by pheromones. Studies show that people can recognize unwashed t-shirts belonging to their mates by the smell."
Then there is the brain, which produces its own substances that are involved in bonding.
"Two related brain peptides, vasopressin and oxytocin, have been shown to be involved in both the permanent or long-term social bonding that underlies mating," Kristal says. "The neurotransmitter dopamine, in a part of the brain called the VTA, is certainly involved in the rewarding properties of love and sex."
But aphrodisiacs -- foods, drugs and other substances that claim to increase sexual interest -- are a "myth," according to Kristal, who advises that it would be better to "smell good and look successful" in order to attract a potential mate this Valentine's Day.
And keep handy a copy of the "Something" CD, just in case.
The Chemistry Of Love
February 14th is the day we in the U.S. celebrate love. On this Valentine’s Day, we went searching for a scientific explanation for love. We asked psychiatrists and neurobiologists. They told us scientists have known for centuries that love happens in the brain.
Photo by sis
But they reminded us that human love is tough to study with the tools of science. For one thing, our definition of “love” is complex. You might love your child, your cocker spaniel, milk chocolate and the first snow of the season – each in a different way.
Also, scientists can’t cut into or inject things into human brains to look for the chemical changes love brings. It’s true that, over the past decade, research on rodents called prairie voles has shown changes in the voles’ brain chemistry when they form pair bonds. Their brains release high levels of hormones – oxytocin and vasopressin.
Love and Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
Why do some people quickly link up with mates who love them good and strong, while others gravitate to people who hurt them, dump them or withhold love?
It's all in the neurochemistry. I've come up with a metaphor that helps explain this painful syndrome.
When you're a little kid, you get used to your mom's spaghetti sauce; it's the one that tastes right, the one against which all other spaghetti sauces will be judged. (Please substitute latkes, baba ganoush, banh xeo or whatever; and for mom, use dad, another primary caregiver, or Boston Market.) When you leave home and get more experience, your tastes may broaden. But when you're a kid, it's the ONLY real spaghetti sauce.
Your parents take you out to a dinner at a fancy Italian bistro, and that spaghetti just sucks. You sleep over at a friend's, whose dad simmers organic heritage tomatoes with oregano fresh from the garden? Ick!
To some people, it's not just about romance, it's also about chocolate and gifts. If you're the chocolate type, Science Mom provides the Top Ten Scientific Reasons why Chocolate is the World’s Most Perfect Food. Really, some of those reasons should count twice.
If you're the stargazing kind, check out Stellar Occultation: Stargazing That's More Than Just Romance. If you're more biologically inclined, you know that To Cycads, Romance Is Hot And Smelly.
I wouldn't spend a lot of time talking to your date about the neurochemistry of kissing, but who I am to judge? You may get away with it if she is the strong, assertive type because feminists are more romantic.
But even if she's not the type to put up with your garbage, you may still be okay because Even Female Chimps Love The Bad Boys.
If you're a man, and sick of losing to the bad boys, take heart; here are the Top 10 Reasons Relationships With Robots Will Be Better For Men.