LSSP2017

Being friendly can payoff

Dr. Brian Hare

Dr. Brian Hare speaks about how friendliness and natural selection are connected at the 13th annual LSSP symposium, The Science of Love. | photo by Roger Meissen

Hare explains survival of the friendliest as component of natural selection

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC

Dogs really are a man’s best friend if you ask Brian Hare.

Our four-legged friends are a direct result of chance coupled with domestication. And over the course of hundreds of years, that domestication has led to deep bonds between humans and dogs.

“You love your dog, physiologically, the same way as your offspring or partner,” Hare said.

Throughout his career, Hare has analyzed various animals from dogs and foxes to chimpanzees and bonobos to determine how much friendliness actually is a factor in their survival.

Recently, Hare has focused on primates. In his studies, he’s observed distinct differences between chimpanzees and bonobos, both of which are closely related species.

“Chimpanzees are like humans,” Hare said. “Bonobos have a different social system.”

Chimpanzees tend to be the more aggressive, male-dominated of the two. On the other hand, bonobos are the exact opposite and thrive on a more equal approach. Bonobos love to share with anyone and everyone, making them friendlier.

Hare has been able to support this difference through a series of experiments. They show that one bonobo will likely help a stranger in a cage get food that is just out of reach. These experiments showed that bonobos are willing to help others in most situations unless there’s a high cost or risk to self.

The evolutionary elements of friendliness and the traits behind kindness Hare identified as a possible reason homo sapiens won out over other human ancestors like Neanderthals. This is due, in part, to what Hare calls the ‘like me’ trait.

“If we as humans can categorize based on cultural or social characteristics that someone is “like us,” we’re more likely to help them out,” Hare said. “This leads to bonds.”

The opposite is also true, though. This means if we identify someon as “not like us,” we’re less likely to help them. That stark difference between humans and both chimpanzees and bonobos makes for a more complicated communication process, and contributes to humans being both the friendliest and cruelest species alive.

At the end of the day, though, Hare strongly believes the science supports friendliness as a component of natural selection.

“You can win big by being friendly in the evolutionary game,” Hare said.

The 13th annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium, The Science of Love, started Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 7. It features six experts that research various aspects of love, relationships and connection. The event will conclude on Friday, Oct. 13 with its last speaker, Jim Obergefell, who was the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case on marriage equality.

Forming a bond

Dr. Larry Young

Dr. Larry Young opens the second day of The Science of Love. | photo by Roger Meissen

Larry Young explores chemicals behind monogamy in prairie voles, humans

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC

Upon first glance, it wouldn’t seem that humans and small rodents have that much in common.

However, Larry Young extensively studies the prairie vole because their desire to mate for life.

“Prairie voles mate for life,” Young said. “That’s very unusual, in fact, only three to five percent of mammals do this.”

This commonality between the small mammal and humans allows Young to relate his research on voles to humans. His goal is to understand the neurochemical bond that occurs between two voles after mating.

Neurologically, this “pair bonding” occurs largely because of oxytocin. The brain houses receptors for this hormone that create pleasure from it. The resulting feeling’s mutual, and chemical, leading a bond to form.

“The brain’s reward system houses the receptors that make oxytocin an influential chemical,” Young said. “Prairie voles activate this when they bond.”

Young manipulates the prairie vole’s brain to try an understand why exactly pair bonding exists. He then takes brain scans of them, compares them to mice that aren’t monogamous and sees what’s happening differently in their brains. In doing so, he is able to pinpoint differences in the voles and apply that knowledge to humans.

“We should think of ourselves as part of a continuum,” Young said. “The voles have a similar makeup to humans, but we don’t say that they’re in love – we say they’re bonded.”

That distinction makes a difference in Young’s studies. However, he’s still able to learn a lot about people by observing voles, and it’s those revelations that Young enjoys most.

That insight might one day lead to treatments for autism or other disorders where issues in interaction and bonding affect people.

“The Science of Love isn’t just entertaining,” Young said. “It has the potential to change lives for the better.”

The 13th annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium, The Science of Love, started Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 7. It features six experts that research various aspects of love, relationships and connection. The event will conclude on Friday, Oct. 13 with its last speaker, Jim Obergefell, who was the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case on marriage equality.

Balancing lust, romance and attachment

Dr. Helen Fisher

Dr. Helen Fisher opens the 13th annual LSSP symposium, The Science of Love, on Friday, Oct. 6. | photo by Allison Scott

Helen Fisher delves into the relationships we choose and why in our digital age

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC

We might not understand what drives us to establish and maintain romantic relationships, but Helen Fisher has made her living trying to figure it out.

The romantic love expert spoke Friday, October 6, in Bond LSC about the neurological reasons behind why humans behave the way they do.

“Romantic love is located right next to thirst and hunger in the brain – it’s a survival system,” Fisher said. “If we survive another million years, we will continue to fall in love.”

Fisher has worked in tandem with the dating site match.com for more than a decade to tailor sites like chemistry.com to look at how relationships actually work in our brains and in practice. Using data from match.com that represents the U.S. population, Fisher detailed how the digital age impacts the dating scene.

“Fundamentally, love isn’t changing,” Fisher said. “Courtship patterns are.”

He research indicates a tendency toward “slow love,” where partners tend to get sexually involved sooner, but are more cautious about marriage and take much longer than previous generations to pair up in that way.

Technology, meeting online and evolving social norms play  huge roles in these changes, but she argued that dating sites aren’t really dating sites at all.

“They’re introducing sites,” Fisher said. “The only real algorithm is your brain.”

These changes in how people meet influence marriage, too. She highlighted how cohabitating influences the perception of marriage and its overall impact, as well as the increased tendency for more casual sexual encounters.

“What we’re seeing now is the expanding of the pre-commitment stage of romance,” Fisher said. “Marriage used to be the beginning of a relationship, but now it’s the end.”

While modern couples often postpone marriage, Fisher notes that most people do marry before they reach the age of 50 and she feels positively toward relationship trends and the direction that romantic love is headed.

“I’m extremely optimistic,” Fisher said. “We’re marrying later and moving toward relative marriage relationship stability.”

The 13th annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium, The Science of Love, started Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 7. It features six experts that research various aspects of love, relationships and connection. The event will conclude on Friday, Oct. 13 with its last speaker, Jim Obergefell, who was the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case on marriage equality.