Flowers, Kissing and Ferret Attraction


Valentine’s Day 2008 is almost here and once again we await the exchange of chocolates, cards, and for the lucky ones, flowers. Actually, make that eco-friendly flowers, organic chocolates and electronic cards.As environmentally sound products creep into the market, this year’s holiday is offering new alternatives to traditional gifts. Recent articles in the New York Times and Boston Globe can tell you where to buy flowers especially for a canvas-bag toting partner or even heart-shaped candies with green sayings such as “Nature Lover” or “Wild Life.”

Another trend for Valentine’s 2008 are articles removing the romance from kissing. In “The Differences of Gender–Sealed with a Kiss,” Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports the results of research examining what men and women expect from a kiss. (Apparently men prefer more saliva.) “Affairs of the Lips: Why we Kiss,” this month’s Scientific American Mind cover story, explores the evolutionary benefits of kissing, from mate selection to feeding.

Scientists have been trying to understand human attraction for years, but since many of the most revealing studies would be invasive and thus unethical, a lot of what we do know comes, surprisingly, from ferrets. This evening, Coolidge Corner Theater, a not-for-profit independent theater in Brookline,
Body Heat
Mass., brought Michael Baum, a Boston University biologist, to explain some of these experiments as part of its Science On Screen series. Coolidge Corner Theater, New Scientist Magazine and the Museum of Science sponsor the screenings, which occur nine times throughout the academic year.

To go with the Valentine’s theme, Dr. Baum gave his presentation to coincide with the showing of the 1981 suspense/romance flick “Body Heat.” While the movie choice was a little less than scientific, his talk illuminated the importance of odor in mate choice. By blocking receptors that detect odor molecules a.k.a. pheromones ferrets no longer have a preference for the opposite sex, he explained.

Does smell apply to humans? Many researchers believe so, although the existence of human pheromones is controversial. Imaging studies looking at the brain’s reaction to androstadienone, a molecule found in male sweat, revealed certain areas of the female and gay male brain are activated that aren’t in straight men.

What is known about human attraction is that it activates the same pathway in the brain as the high from cocaine use and winning a lot of money. So whether your eyes, nose or brain stimulate the attraction, it is scientifically proven that it feels good.

Posted by Joseph, under reviews, specials  |  Date: February 11, 2008
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