Are you feelin' the love? How's your vasopressin / oxytocin?

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Larry Young wrote an essay published in the latest Nature issue (you'd need to subscribe to the magazine, or just go to your library and borrow it?). The New York Times ran an article claiming the possibility of an anti-love vaccine based on the findings cited in the essay. Sorry to break it to you, fellas and ladies, this is, of course, as plausible as 'love potion' cologne working to help that special someone fall in love with you, or to just plain boost your chance in dating.

The studies that these writers based their speculation on were done mostly on animals, most recently female prairie voles. Monogamous pair bonding for life is very rare in the mammals world, and prairie voles just happen to be one of these rare instances. When the researchers 'infused' the female prairie voles with oxytocin, they would rapidly become attached to the nearest male. Larry Young cited similar instances of immediate bonding between a mother and her (could be foreign) baby in the animal kingdom (ewes, rats, macaques, etc.) to support the notion that the hormone oxytocin (and in men, vasopressin), in its interaction with the same dopamine reward system as one that's used in mother-infant bonding, somehow was the basis for 'love'. He should have clarified that he wasn't talking about love as much as he was talking about monogamous pair mating in animals. Love in human terms, as we know, is a bit more complicated than just monogamous pair mating. And the dopamine system has been found in so many reward instances that it wasn't particularly telling that they were found to be sharing the same rewarding system as female-infant bonding.

While it was interesting that a particular variant of the AVPRIA gene (vasopressin receptor gene) has been found to be associated with men's likelihood of remaining unmarried (or when married, twice as likely to report a recent crisis in marriage), gene expression does not necessarily translate to a one-to-one ratio with behavioural expression, to speak nothing of the interplay of circumstances/opportunities. I wish cultural context would be taken into account more seriously when considering anything to do with patterns of complicated human behaviour, especially for something as ill-defined as 'love.'



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