Wednesday, August 4, 2010


In my last post (read it first), I noted new research that suggests that oxytocin does induce trust in another (as my other posts here have made clear) but that it does not make one gullible as long as there are cues about if another person is trustworthy.

If you’ve read other posts I’ve written, you have likely figured out that I think there are good reasons to be concerned about how fast people hook up and become sexually involved with others. (In addressing these things, I’m not really focusing on big questions of how long one waits for sex—including all the way to marriage. I have views on that, but I’m working on the other end of the whole deal about just how fast things happen for so many these days.)

To recap other posts, oxytocin gets rolling with all sorts of things happening in a relationship, including touching, hugging, kissing, touching, sexual contact, etc. Hence, if oxytocin induces trust, one will be chemically nudged toward trusting a new partner one is physically intimate with as soon as things get touchy. I’ve expressed concerns that all the chemistry going on can make some people misread the situation, seeing something more meaningful than what is real or misreading cues about a partner who is not such a great choice.

Quick Illustration (otherwise known as a short bunny trail): Have you ever been in a serious chemistry area, such as a chem classroom in high school or college, or a real chem lab in some work or health setting? I’m thinking of chem labs in college. Have you noticed the overhead showers with the chain to pull and the eye washing stations? You may never have seen such in action, but you’ve likely seen what I’m talking about. Those devices are for emergencies; they are for unfortunate chemists who have gotten the wrong chemicals all over their bodies or into their eyes. In such cases, the key is rapidly flushing away the chemical before too much damage is done. Back to love. It’s blind, you know, or can be—chemically blind, that is. I don’t really mean love, of course. I mean lust and desire. (I’m not down on desire, btw; it’s a “handle with care thing,” though.) Ever known someone who needs to run to the eyewash station and flush away the chemical blindness they have going in some relationship before it’s too late? Perhaps that’s been you. Some wouldn’t do too badly to quickly use the eyewash station and then also pull the chain for the giant cold shower that’s right next door to it. Whoosh. Reset. Handle chemistry more carefully next time.

The research I wrote about last post suggests that all is not hopeless in terms of chemical blindness. Oxytocin (and, doubtless, other chemicals of coursing love—of course) are not all powerful. They can be countered with a little information that helps a person go more slowly on the path ahead. They key thing about this experiment I described last time is that the trust-relevant information was clearly received by the participants who were, thereafter, less blindly affected by the extra jolt of oxytocin.

What does that mean in the real world, the one not being carefully controlled by an experimenter? It means going slow, having boundaries, and getting useful information that can inform decisions about what one will do rather than sliding into situations that are risky and unwise. It used to be that people got information or cautions from family and friends. I’m sure some of the former and a lot of the latter still give useful advice and caution to people. But I also bet that there is a lot less of both than years ago. And it’s an easy bet that these things go sooo must faster now than in the past. Speed is an enemy of seeing warning signs. A driver going so fast down a mountain has little chance of staying in the lines or reacting to warning signs, even if she wants to do so.