As tomorrow is Valentines Day, it seemed like a good time to talk about the brain health benefits of relationships, of fighting vs. kissing, and in confrontations vs. intimacy. They are actually our strongest emotions, and elicit a variety of chemical and hormonal responses in the brain. In simple terms, they are polar opposites to each other, as fighting or “intimidation” is based on anger & self defense, and “intimacy” is based on love & affection. And there’s a science of each. But first, let’s look at the practical barriers we face in meeting someone, and in eventually getting to that first kiss.
There are “two” energy fields an outsider must penetrate: an outer one for protection, and an inner one for intimacy.
Our outer space extends about 3 feet out from our bodies, and others normally need permission to enter this space, or we allow it when we are standing in a crowded setting. Our inner space then extends about 4-5 inches out from our bodies, and is designed for the intimate exchange of information, albeit private conversation, friendship, or sexual foreplay, the gateway to our heart, mind, and soul. Just as others must be invited into our outer field, entry into this intimate field is by invitation only. And each of us has our own preferences as to how one can gain entry into this intimate space, and it is these practices that comprise our unique identity.
When we kiss, according to research scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of “The Science of Kissing” and a research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, a spectrum of neurochemicals are released. Lip contact also involves five of our 12 cranial nerves as we engage all of our senses to learn more about a partner.
A passionate kiss acts like a drug, causing us to crave the other person thanks to a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is the same substance involved in taking illegal substances such as cocaine, which is why the novelty of a new romance can feel so addictive. Dopamine is involved in sensations of reward, making us feel intense desire that can lead to feelings of euphoria, insomnia, and loss of appetite, and it is only one actor in the great chemical ballet happening in our bodies.
And then there are physical changes. A kiss can cause our blood vessels to dilate, our pulse to quicken and cheeks to flush. Our pupils grow wide, which is likely one reason that so many of us are apt to close our eyes. In other words, the body’s response mirrors many of the same symptoms frequently associated with falling in love.
Other scientists have reported on what are termed, pheromones, or naturally occurring odorless substances the fertile body excretes externally, conveying an airborne signal that provides information to, and triggers responses from, the opposite sex of the same species.
Scientists at the Athena Institute for Women’s Wellness identified four types of pheromones, spanning:
1.Human sex-attractant pheromones (Dr. Cutler’s expertise)
2.Mother-infant recognition pheromones – a signal that identifies which mother to suckle from, or which offspring to allow to remain in the nest.
3.Menstrual synchrony pheromones in women – causing women in close proximity to cycle together, menstruating at the same time of the month.
4.Territorial marking animal pheromones – a keep away from ‘my females’ signal.
Now fighting, on the other hand, involves a whole different set of responses and brain chemicals. produce the fight-or-flight response, the hypothalamus activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The sympathetic nervous system uses nerve pathways to initiate reactions in the body, and the adrenal-cortical system uses the bloodstream. The hypothalamus tells the sympathetic nervous system to kick into gear, the overall effect is that the body speeds up, tenses up and becomes generally very alert.
At the same time, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) into the pituitary gland, activating the adrenal-cortical system. The pituitary gland (a major endocrine gland) secretes the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH moves through the bloodstream and ultimately arrives at the adrenal cortex, where it activates the release of approximately 30 different hormones that get the body prepared to deal with a threat.
With Valentines Day coming up, you need to think through which effect you would like to experience: intimacy & kissing; or fight & flight.
I’ve enclosed some links and a cool video for kissing in case you need convincing.
As for me, I am a neuroscience researcher and specialize in drum circles for the brain, cognition and cognitive accessible designs, neuro-diagnostic programs, and hydrocephalus monitoring.
CNN’s feature on kissing:
The Athena Institute on Kissing:
If you choose to fight, read this: