Tag Archives: love


These fishes get sad when their partner is away — pointing to the roots of romantic love

Humans aren’t the only ones who get sad when their significant other isn’t around, new research from the University of Burgundy, Dijon, France, reveals.


Amatitlania siquia.
Image via Wikimedia.

Amatitlania siquia may only be a small fish, but its heart is really big — metaphorically speaking. This species is monogamous, with individuals forming durable, tight parings and cooperating closely as partners to build nests and rear their young. This made them an ideal test subject to see whether animals also feel negative emotional effects when separated from their partner — and, according to the new study, they do.

Till death do us part

“To the best of our knowledge, this study is the very first demonstration of emotional attachment to the sexual partner in a non-human species. The effect of the absence of the sexual partner on the mood of the individual has never observed in any other species so far,” Dr. François-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont, the paper’s corresponding author, told me in an email.

“Please note that we do not say that such an emotional attachment does not exist in other species, but it was not the subject of research so far. Incidentally, it is also the first use of the cognitive judgment bias test in a fish species.”

The team of biologists from the University of Burgundy managed to objectively quantify the emotional shift the fishes felt when separated from their partner. When this partner was removed, they report, the fishes became pessimistic, suggesting that they do indeed form emotional attachments to their sexual partners. The findings raise the question of whether such attachments offer an evolutionary or adaptive edge to the fish and, by extension, if these advantages also hold true for humans.

The main accepted reason for why humans form emotional attachments to their partners is that this should help promote stability in the couple and allow both parents to focus on raising the children instead of fighting and bickering. Two parents are better than one, as the old saying goes, so this propensity of ours to form attachments to our partners was likely a key component of our success as a species throughout the ages.

The team was curious to see if other monogamous species that form long-lasting couples rely on the same strategy. However, they first had a hurdle to overcome — assessing such subjective feelings in an animal model that can’t tell you what emotions they are experiencing. So, for the study, the authors adapted a technique devised for and used in psychology — the judgment bias test.

“How can we measure the mood in a fish species? The solution was to try transposing the judgement bias test in a fish species, a non-verbal animal species,” Dechaume-Moncharmont explained “To do so, we had to teach the fish to open artificial box, which was not trivial but the videos are quite illustrative.”

In essence, what the team did was train the fish to discern between two types of boxes — one empty and one containing a tasty reward in the form of a plump larva — based on their color. The reward box was black, and the empty one was white. After the fish got the hang of it, the researchers mixed things up by presenting the animals with a grey-colored box.

The idea behind the experiment is to use the speed with which the fishes open box as a proxy for their emotional state. How fast the fishes opened it indicates their mood. Optimistic individuals are expected to respond more rapidly (“glass half full”) than the pessimistic ones (“glass half empty”). The team reports that — much the same case as with humans — the absence of the partner affected the fishes’ mood, making them more pessimistic.

The team explains what this level of emotional attachment between partners is the first criteria for characterizing romantic love, which is fundamentally perceived as a unique property of our species. In other words, at least parts of the whole that we call ‘romantic love’ aren’t human-specific.

In the future, the team plans to see how long these negative effects on mood can last for, and how they relate to each individual’s sexual choices.

“We would also like to assess the existence of such an emotional attachment to the partner in other species. We predict that other monogamous species are good candidates,” Dechaume-Moncharmont adds. “If the independent evolution of such attachments is confirmed in several phylogenetically distant species, it could indicate that these emotional biases are maybe more than bias, that they may have some adaptive values.”

“Love is maybe not so irrational.”

The paper “Pair-bonding influences affective state in a monogamous fish species” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


Sharing a plate helps with both love and work

Need a boost to persuasion power at your next big meeting? Try changing the setting to someplace less plate-y.


Image via Pixabay.

Business negotiations go more smoothly and take less time when participants share a plate, not just a meal, new research reveals. Shared plates are customary in Chinese and Indian cultures (among others), and people sharing a plate are able to collaborate better and reach deals faster, the study explains.

Breaking Bread

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Wooley, a Professor at the University of Chicago and PhD student Cornell University, respectively, say a family-style meal with a prospective business partner can help the deal go through smoothly.

The duo asked a group of participants (all strangers to one another) to pair off in a lab experiment regarding negotiation patterns. Before the experiments began, participants were invited to have a snack of chips and salsa with their partners. Half of the pairs received one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa to share, while the others each had their own bowls.

After this light snack, the pairs were asked to simulate a negotiation between a member of management and a union representative. Their goal was to settle on an acceptable wage for workers of both parties in the span of 22 rounds of negotiations. To put a little bit of pressure on the hypothetical scenario, a “costly union strike” was scheduled to start on round three. Each party would incur costs from this strike which, the team hoped, would help coax the participants into reaching a deal as quickly as possible.

On average, participants that shared a bowl of snacks reached an agreement in nine strike days (i.e. in twelve turns). Their separate-bowl counterparts needed, on average, took four days longer to agree on their terms. In the team’s hypothetical scenario, these four extra days translated to an extra $1.5 million in combined losses.

What’s particularly interesting is that it didn’t much matter if the two parties liked one another — what mattered was whether or not they had coordinated their eating. This finding came from a repeat experiment carried out by Woolley and Fishbach, in which they had both friends and strangers participate. Both groups received pairs of both friends and strangers, and sharing plates had a significant effect in both cases.

The degree to which a person felt they were collaborating with their partner while eating — sharing food rather than competing for that last bite — predicted their feelings of collaboration during the negotiation phase, the team adds. Fischbach says that the results showcase the powerful effect a meal can have on interpersonal connections. Despite how convenient remote meetings can be, they simply don’t stack up to sharing a meal — and, he adds, this holds true for professional as well as personal relationships.

“Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone,” says Fishbach. “And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”

The paper ” Shared Plates, Shared Minds: Consuming from a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

Valentine’s Day Special: The Broken Heart Syndrome

Via Pixabay/dimitriwittmann

I guess every one of us has an idea of what a broken heart feels like. The loneliness, the confusion, the anger and despair, and the chronic feeling of emptiness, are all states our society is already used to. Maybe the fast-paced rhythm of our lives, our focus on careers, jobs and financial independence has diminished our love interests. Or, maybe we have just become more superficial due to fast hook-ups on the internet. Maybe we forgot how to love, or maybe we are just not willing to risk our emotional wellbeing by allowing someone to become part of our lives.

Maybe our standards are too high, maybe we expect too much of someone and give almost nothing in return, or maybe we feel entitled to live a fairytale love story and end up not making any effort to really get to know and fully accept another human being at our side.

Or, maybe we are afraid of being abandoned or rejected by someone we have feelings for — all of us being caught up in this neverending, absurd, non-realistic partner chasing.

But when we do break down our ice-cold walls, when we accept another fellow human to enter our hearts, when we easily sacrifice our needs for someone else’s, we learn to love. And there is nothing more beautiful and fulfilling than love.

But there is an unforeseen disadvantage to it, and that is called the broken heart syndrome.

First described in Japan in the ’90s, this curious condition is not yet fully understood. What scientists know is that it’s triggered by powerful emotional and physical stressors and it affects the heart muscle, which loses the ability to contract normally.

The disease is known by many names: stress cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (from the Japanese word takotsubo –“octopus trap,” because the left ventricle takes on a shape resembling a fishing pot), or apical ballooning syndrome. 

Even though it was first described in men in Japan, the condition affects almost exclusively women (90%) past the age of 60. Menopause is thought to be a serious risk, estrogen levels dropping significantly during this period. Research shows that up to 5% of women evaluated for heart attacks actually have this disorder. Studies carried out on rats whose ovaries had been removed, showed that the ones given estrogen while under stress had less left-ventricle dysfunction and higher levels of some heart protective-substances.

Doctors think that high levels of stress hormones (for example, adrenaline) affect the heart, triggering alterations in heart muscle cells or coronary blood vessels (or both) that prevent the left ventricle from contracting effectively. The symptoms perfectly mimic a heart attack.

Luckily, most cases have a full recovery but there are some fatal ones.

Its love-linked reputation is also real. The death of a loved one, love quarrels, domestic violence, divorces, even break-ups, have been reported as emotional stressors. Other stressful events, as anxiety, public speaking, financial loss, illnesses or accidents, severe pain or even surprise birthday parties have been identified as triggers.

I don’t know if we’ll all be so lucky as to find our one true love, or if this concept really exists, but I think broken heart syndrome can also be a metaphor for the fragility of the human soul.

Male dolphins give gifts and employ wingmen to impress the ladies

The game is the same whether you live on the ground or beneath the waves. A decade-long study has found that male dolphins employ complex pick-up strategies, including offering gifts and rallying wingmen.

Image credits: Mandy / Wiki Commons.

Perplexing behavior

The complex social behavior of dolphins never ceases to amaze me. They hang out in cliques, they remember their friends even after decades apart, and are often more humane than we are. But being really smart doesn’t really prevent you from looking like a complete fool when you’re in love, it turns out.

In a study recently published in Scientific Reports, Australian and Swiss scientists report that male Australian humpback dolphins, Sousa sahulensis, go the extra mile when it comes to impressing the opposite sex. Specifically, they offer females gifts (large marine sponges, to be precise), carry out elaborate visual and acoustic displays, and rally wingmen to help their case.

“We were at first perplexed to witness these intriguing behavioural displays by male humpback dolphins, but as we undertook successive field trips over the years, the evidence mounted,” said lead author Dr. Simon Allen from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Here we have some of the most socially complex animals on the planet using sponges, not as a foraging tool, but as a gift, a display of his quality, or perhaps even as a threat in the behavioural contexts of socialising and mating.”

Underwater gifts

Researchers speculate that dolphins form temporary or permanent alliances, serving as wingmen for each other. They also act in seemingly silly ways, like carrying out the rooster strut, Allen says.

“The behavioral posturing by male Sousa is similar to that exhibited by bottlenose dolphins engaged in sexual displays in Shark Bay. The ‘rooster strut,’ for example, is performed by individual males or simultaneously by pairs of male in Shake Bay, where the head is arched above the surface and bobbed up and down, usually in the presence of a female.”

But the gift giving is even more impressive. Dolphins would dive to the seafloor and pluck large sea sponges, balancing them on the nose, presumably in a display of strength and agility — presenting themselves as suitable mates.

This type of strategy is rare in the non-human world but has been observed (to some extent) in other species. Male bowerbirds, for instance, toss colorful objects in the air to attract the attention of mates. But this is the first time dolphins or any other marine species has been observed to do so. It seems that study after study shows just how much we have in common with these intelligent creatures.

“This is a new finding for this species, and presents an exciting avenue for future research, Allen concludes.”

Journal Reference: S. J. Allen, S. L. King, M. Krützen & A. M. Brown. Multi-modal sexual displays in Australian humpback dolphins. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-13898-9


Two-day long sexual ‘afterglow’ helps couples bond and feel more sexually satisfied after the deed

A study of newlywed couples found that partners show a sexual ‘afterglow’ after the deed which can last up to two days. This afterglow was linked with greater relationship satisfaction and a lower decline in satisfaction over time.

Image credits Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay.

Sex is a great couple activity to cement a relationship and help you bond with your partner. Even better, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your house to do it. For all it’s usefulness to the couple and the obvious other benefits it brings to the table/bed/counter, people don’t usually have sex with their partners every day, but rather once every few days. So Andrea Meltzer, a psychological scientist at the Florida State University, and her team, theorized that the benefits of doing the do extends for longer than a day — providing a short-term boost to sexual satisfaction and promoting pair bonding between the partners, increasing overall relationship satisfaction over the long term.

“Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says Meltzer, who was first author on the study.

“And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

Self-reported love

To test their theory, the team looked at data gathered from “two independent, longitudinal studies”, one with 96 newlywed couples and the other with 118 newlywed couples. These couples had completed at least three consecutive days of a 14-day daily diary task as part of a larger study looking at their daily sexual activity as well as sexual and marital satisfaction “at baseline” and 4 to 6 months later.

Every night before going to bed, the newlyweds were asked to independently report whether or not they had sex day with their partner that day. They also had to use a 7-point scale (1=not at all, 7=extremely) to rate how satisfied they were with their sex life, their partner, the relationship, and their marriage that day. They also completed three measures of marriage quality at the beginning of the study and during a follow-up session 4 to 6 months later.

Although the answers varied considerably among participants, on average they reported having sex 4 times during the two-week study. The team found a link between sex on a given day and greater self-reported sexual satisfaction over the next one or two days. So every ‘sex’ made the participants feel better about their sex lives for up to 48 hours. This link held strong throughout gender and age groups even after the team accounted for other factors such as personality traits, sexual frequency, or length of relationship.

All couples experienced a decline in marital satisfaction during the baseline and the follow-up session. But more importantly, participants who reported a relatively high level of sexual afterglow reported both higher initial marital satisfaction and less decline in satisfaction over the first 4 to 6 months of their marriage. The findings are consistent with those reached by the two independent studies, which Meltzer and her colleagues say provides strong evidence in favor of the sexual afterglow.

“This research is important because it joins other research suggesting that sex functions to keep couples pair bonded,” Meltzer concludes.

So what does this mean? Well, not only will sex feel good and make you feel life’s that one shade brighter afterwards, but it will also help maintain relationship quality over time. What more do you need? Grab that special someone and go bond the feathers out of each other.

The full paper “Quantifying the Sexual Afterglow: The Lingering Benefits of Sex and Their Implications for Pair-Bonded Relationships” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

zebra finch

It’s not just the genes: zebra finches show love is essential too

Love is complicated enough, even without intense scrutiny from scientists. Do we fall in love with someone because we find our partner’s genetic makeup to be satisfying and thus improve the chance of having better offspring? Or is it a bit more mysterious than this – a lot more personal? For humans, the latter looks like the case, but we’re far from being alone. Zebra finches, which are also monogamous, choose their mates for idiosyncratic reasons as shown by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The finches who chose their partners based on behavioral compatibility were less likely to shrug from their parental duties and had offspring which had the best chance of reaching adulthood. This elegant experiment proves that choosing a mate isn’t all about who has the brightest plumage or the biggest stomach – love has a huge part to play as well. The similarities to humans are uncanny.

zebra finch

Male and female zebra finch. Source: efinch.com


Malika Ihle, the lead author of the study, collected 160 zebra finches from the wild and split them into four groups made of 20 males and 20 females each. Left free to roam, the birds soon bonded and chose their prospective mates. Already, the researchers could not spot a pattern.  A female could be interested in a certain male with a flashy plummage, but another was not – she might have been more interested in males who share the same drive for exploring, for instance. Then, the researchers played dominating parents and split the birds again into two groups. Half were allowed to stay with their chosen partners, while the other half was split again into different groups in which their partners  were arranged. Because the finches are monogamous, the researchers had to trick the birds that their partner was dead.

To ensure statistical relevancy, the researchers once again split the birds. Two-thirds of the zebra finch pairs from the first breeding season were broken up and these individuals were placed into an aviary where they again chose a new partner. One-third of the birds who had either chosen their partners or had it arranged were allowed to breed per usual.


Illustration: Malika Ihle et al (2015)

During this whole time, the researchers studied an extensive library of recorded material (1,424 hours of video and 285 hours worth of direct observations). They found the females in arranged marriages had sex less often and their nests had nearly three times as many unfertilized eggs as the free-choice pairs. As for the males, these were much more likely to skip their parental duties and visited the nest less frequent. Strikingly, the final number of surviving chicks was 37 per cent higher for individuals in chosen pairs than those in non-chosen pairs, as reported in PLOS Biology.

“The percentage of eggs that contained a dead embryo was equal between chosen and assigned pairs. In contrast, the percentage of nestlings that died before reaching independence was twice as high if chicks were raised by assigned pairs”, said Dr Ihle.

“If a chick hatched in such a nest, it only had a 50% chance of surviving.”

To rule out direct genetic benefits, the researchers tricked the birds and swapped eggs from the arranged and self-paired nests. They found the rates of embryo mortality between both free-choice and assigned pairs did not differ, suggesting the birds did not choose their partners based on genetic benefits, nor was the striking difference in offspring survival based on genes. Chicks survived more often in self-made pairs because the parents cared more and were both involved in parenting. The missing ingredient – the glue that holds everything together – might be love.

That’s not to say that genetics don’t play a role – it’s evolutionary essential, after all. Females and males might choose their mates based on superior traits, but not always. All things being almost equal (a diseased male or female will have little luck with “love”), there’s a second important element: parental compatibility. What this means is that those individuals with the best genes and the flashiest behavior are not necessary the best mates for all individuals in the population. The more unique and idiosyncratic an individual is (in this case a zebra finch or human), the more important this ‘click’ becomes in forecasting a fruitful relationship that bears fit young.

The next step for Ihle and colleagues is identifying how exactly parent compatibility leads to better care. Ultimately, research like this might one day unravel the secrets of love. What evolutionary forces shaped it and how? Is there more to it than just producing better offspring?

“To me, love is a peculiar attraction toward a specific individual that is not necessarily shared by other choosing individuals,” Dr Ihle says. “It seems that the chosen pairs, those ‘love marriages,’ invested more into reproduction, were more committed, more faithful, and more motivated to raise their family.”


Love equation

Is there really a mathematical formula that predicts happy relationships?

In a recent TED talk,  Hannah Fry outlines a mathematical formula that predicts long-lasting relationships. In her recent book,  The Mathematics of Love, she discusses the findings of psychologist John Gottman who studied hundreds of couples over many years to find out what sets apart the happy couples from the miserable. Gottman than enlisted the help of a mathematician who correlated all the data the psychologists gathered and came up with an empirical formula that seems to predict if a couple will be happy together.

Love equation

Photo: Alamy

Mathematicians, maybe under an compulsion to reduce things – even human feelings – to their abstract essence, have long tried to come with a mathematical formula for love. It sounds silly, but some have actually tried with mixed reports. Enlightened analyst and geometer Alexis Clairaut may have been the first mathematician to propose a love equation in the form of the Archimedean spiral.

Left: portrait of Clairaut. Right: his love equation (1745). V is the fixed fulcrum and the i's and I's moving clockwise represent the motion of its endpoint. Credit: Mathematics Without Apologies, Michael Harris

Left: portrait of Clairaut. Right: his love equation (1745). V is the fixed fulcrum and the i’s and I’s moving clockwise represent the motion of its endpoint. Credit: Mathematics Without Apologies, Michael Harris

“We seek the curve described by the endpoint of a body, initially vertical and pointing downward, that subsequently changes in length and position,”  Clairaut writes in the IXXth century.

As the years passed, “serious” mathematicians had moved on to more tangible things, discounting any idea of a love equation as absurd. It made its way into fiction though. In Jan Patocky’s late enlightenment novel, “The Saragossa Manuscript”, we meet the so-called geometer Don Pedro Velasquez – a prototype character that mockingly or not describes the absent-minded mathematician. At one point, the lead heroine of the novel, Rebecca, asks Don Velasquez if “this movement we call love, can it be calculated?” The context of the conversation was Rebecca’s bewilderment in the face of a paradox: a man’s love diminishes with intimacy, while the woman’s increases. Velasquez, ever the keen mathematician, jumps to her aid. “I have found a very elegant proof for all problems of this kind: let X….” Hilariously, the author doesn’t let Velasquez present his proof.

Don Pedro Velasquez' Intermediate Love Theorem. Black curve measures the decline of the man's love and the gray curve the increase of the woman's. The point P is the sweet spot - the intersection predicted by Velasquez.  Credit: Mathematics Without Apologies, Michael Harris

Don Pedro Velasquez’ Intermediate Love Theorem. Black curve measures the decline of the man’s love and the gray curve the increase of the woman’s. The point P is the sweet spot – the intersection predicted by Velasquez. Credit: Mathematics Without Apologies, Michael Harris


More recently, in cinema, Berkeley math professor Edward Frenkel explores the same theme in the 26-minute-long “Rites of Love and Math”, a movie he wrote, directed and played the leading role. The film has only two characters, a man in the throes of an existential dilemma and the woman he loves.  In the movie, Frenkel found the mathematical formula of love. But then he realizes that others could use his formula to cause harm — and that he must die to safeguard the world. He saves the formula by etching it into his lover’s body.

Love is a complicated equation. It’s been given mathematicians, of all people, headaches for centuries. But while scientists have yet to uncover the love equation – which in all likelihood can’t exist – the same can’t be said about relationships. Empirically, at least, there seems to be a formula that predicts if a couple will be in a long-lasting, happy relationship.

“In relationships where both partners consider themselves as happy, bad behaviour is dismissed as unusual,” Fry says.

“In negative relationships, however, the situation is reversed,” writes Fry. “Bad behaviour is considered the norm.”

Gottman along with mathematician James Murray found a pattern that predicted when these trends of negativity spiral out of control. When a threshold is reached, the equation predicts a high probability of the relationship ending.

relationship equation

Though framed as “husband” and “wife”, it can be used to describe any couple, heterosexual or otherwise.

The most important factor that influences the well being of a couple is the mutual influence the husband and wife have on each other. The researchers found that when a husband behaves positively to his wife, like saying something nice about her or their life together, the wife will respond positively as well. In the same vein, negativity spirals into more negativity.

“The most successful relationships are the ones with a really low negativity threshold,” writes Fry. “In those relationships, couples allow each other to complain, and work together to constantly repair the tiny issues between them. In such a case, couples don’t bottle up their feelings, and little things don’t end up being blown completely out of proportion.”

In short, a happy couple will interact more often, bring up issues as they happen and work together to fix them.

“Mathematics leaves us with a positive message for our relationships,” Fry says, “reinforcing the age-old wisdom that you really shouldn’t let the sun go down on your anger.”

But is this all it boils down to when discussing happy relationships? Of course not, but, like Fry says, it gives to show at least just how important managing anger and negativity can be. A happy, long-lasting relationship is based on mutual support, understanding and, least not, love. The latter might never be explained in the form of an equation or variable of some sort.

via Science Alert.