Researchers put love under a microscope - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Researchers put love under a microscope

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 3:31 pm | Updated: 1:34 am, Tue Feb 22, 2011.

Researchers always seem to be enchanted with studies that probe into how and why we date and mate, and recent reports delve into our love lives in a variety of ways.

One study by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin considered the language of love -- or more specifically, how couples that share similar speaking styles are more likely to be compatible.

They set up two experiments in which a computer program analyzed the use of "function words" -- common words such as "a," "that," "him," "and" and "anything" -- that are considered indicative of social skills. The results were reported in the journal Psychological Science.

As one part of the study, pairs of college students were recorded during four-minute speed dates, and then conversations were analyzed to see how in sync their language style was. The pairs whose language styles had above-average matches were almost four times as likely to want to see their partner again.

Another part snooped into how dating couples chatted electronically over a 10-day period. Almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing styles matched were still dating three months later, compared with about half of the couples whose style did not match as well.

The researchers offer a Web site that can help partners test how well their language styles match:

But there's one particular word that seems to trip up even many young couples -- monogamy.

Researchers from Oregon State University studied 434 young heterosexual couples ages 18 to 25 who were considered at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

In a report published online in December in the Journal of Sex Research, a little more than half the couples, 227, said they had a discussion about the exclusivity of their relationship and agreed to be monogamous, but one partner had strayed in 65 of these couples.

Among 40 percent of all participants, only one partner said they had agreed to be sexually exclusive; the other half said there was no agreement.

The study showed that being married had little effect on being monogamous, and having children actually made it less likely that a monogamy agreement was in place, as was being Hispanic. Only couples that had very high scores on a scale of relationship commitment had higher odds that they would sustain a monogamy agreement.

Another recent study, by scientists in New York, suggests that some people may have a genetic propensity for infidelity.

The researchers, led by Justin Garcia, a doctoral fellow at Binghamton University, State University of New York, gathered detailed histories of sexual behavior and intimate relationships for 181 young adults, along with DNA samples.

The chief genetic culprit, according to a report in the online journal Public Library of Science One, appears to be a specific variant of a gene that regulates reception of the brain chemical dopamine, which is known to be linked to various types of thrill-seeking behavior such as drinking alcohol, illicit drug use and gambling.

Garcia said the genetic trait does not dictate that people will cheat, nor does everyone who has one-night stands carry the variant. The genes "do not give anyone an excuse, but they do provide a window into how our biology shapes our propensities for a wide variety of behaviors," he said.

The findings link to another recent study directed by Stephanie Ortigue, a Syracuse University professor of psychology and neurology. She and a number of colleagues plowed through reams of earlier studies that involved brain MRIs of people as they were falling in love, or who had recently done so.

They found that the cascade of euphoric brain chemicals released by romantic attraction follow many of the same pathways that are activated by cocaine use, and that the whole process fires up in less than a second during "love at first sight."

The researchers reported in the November issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine that at least 12 areas of the brain work together to release chemicals that include dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin.

They also noted that other researchers have found that blood levels of nerve growth factor, a chemical that helps preserve sensory and sympathetic neurons -- a big part of the social side of the brain -- are higher in couples that have just fallen in love.

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