Why We Love, The Time Magazine Version

Too bad Jeffrey Kluger didn’t pay closer attention to Hannibal Lecter.  He might have written a better article on “Why We Love,” out this week in Time Magazine, instead of giving us a flawed view of evolution and brain research.  Still, in furtive glimpses of data, rather than quick quotes and pop theories, another way to think about love glides onto stage. 

As I told my anthropology students yesterday, the initial assumptions we make so often dictate our ideas and our results.  But those assumptions are generally presented as “facts” or assertions of truth, part of an unassailable background.  So here are the ones packed into Kluger’s piece, right there at the beginning: (1) that humans rely on our wits, so “losing our faculties over a matter like sex” needs explaining (in other words, humans are rational, why have primitive passions); (2) that we evolved in a “savanna full of predators,” so getting distracted by love could be potentially dangerous, (3) that our genes have “concerns,” primary among them to make us reproduce as much as possible (“breed now and breed plenty gets that job done”), and (4) that we can extend these sorts of explanations to all “the rituals surrounding” sex, love and relationships (like a bunch of scientists drunk on their own ideas—explanatory expansion gone wild!). 
Continue reading “Why We Love, The Time Magazine Version”

Steven Pinker and the Moral Instinct

By Daniel Lende 

Steven Pinker is selling something.  Here’s what’s on the table: “the human moral sense turns out to be an organ of considerable complexity.”  This organ has been built into our brains by evolution, culture-free except for how its five domains (harm, fairness, community, authority, and purity) are “ranked” and “channeled” in different places around the globe.  Ready to buy? 

Let’s sweeten the deal.  Pinker is offering his “deeper look” which will help you “rethink your answers” about life and morality.  He’s providing “a more objective reckoning” to help people get over their moral “illusions.”  And he’s got the data to show it, from people in the lab, Web sites, and brain scanners.  (I can’t help asking, these are his moral examples?  People in artificial situations, people who don’t physically interact, and a series of images?)  Continue reading “Steven Pinker and the Moral Instinct”

Loneliness and Health: Experience, Stress, and Genetics

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchFeeling lonely?  Well, that might make you sick.  The mechanism?  Well, here’s the surprise.  Patterns of genetic expression.

 Here’s the press release from Genome Biology, “People who experience chronically high levels of loneliness show gene-expression patterns that differ markedly from those of people who don’t feel lonely.”  The study’s lead author, Steven Cole, notes: “In this study, changes in immune cell gene expression were specifically linked to the subjective experience of social distance.  The differences we observed were independent of other known risk factors for inflammation, such as health status, age, weight, and medication use. The changes were even independent of the objective size of a person’s social network. What counts, at the level of gene expression, is not how many people you know, it’s how many you feel really close to over time.”    Continue reading “Loneliness and Health: Experience, Stress, and Genetics”

‘How Your Mood Affects Your Health’

One of my preferred news compilation websites, Alternet.org, just published a piece, originally from the UK Independent (I believe), on the relation of emotions, personal interactions, and similar ‘moods’ on health. Anastasia Stephens, in the article, ‘How Your Mood Affects Your Health,’ runs through in very cursory fashion a whole host of research on the effects of things like laughing, stress, arguments, and crying on the human immune systems, healing, and the like.

The article has a lot of fun little research summaries, unfortunately, without links to the actual research reports or anything deeper about the studies. But there’s warnings about how arguing affects healing:

A half-hour argument with your lover can also slow your body’s ability to heal by at least a day. In couples who regularly argue, that healing time is doubled again. Researchers at Ohio State University discovered this by testing married couples with a suction device that created tiny blisters on their arm. When couples were then asked to talk about an area of disagreement that provoked strong emotions, the wounds took around 40 per cent longer to heal. This response, say researchers, was caused by a surge in cytokines — immune-molecules that trigger inflammation. Chronic high levels of these are linked to arthritis, diabetes, heart-disease and cancer.

Or another personal favorite:

Scientists at the University of California have discovered that laughter relaxes tense muscles, reduces production of stress-causing hormones, lowers blood pressure, and helps increase oxygen absorption in the blood. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found laughing can actually reduce the risk of heart attack by curbing unwanted stress, which can destroy the protective lining of blood vessels. A good giggle also burns calories since it’s possible to move 400 muscles of the body when laughing. Some researchers estimate that laughing 100 times offers an aerobic workout equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike.

Continue reading “‘How Your Mood Affects Your Health’”