Thursday, June 02, 2005

Why Second Base is Scoring Position

You may have encountered a news story about the effect of the hormone oxytocin on the human propensity to trust other people. Sprayed in the nose, it apparently makes the subject more willing to risk giving money to a stranger. That’s really not so surprising. It has been known for quite a while that the hormone elicits maternal behavior so that it wouldn’t be surprising if it played a role in other kinds of bonding. But I expect that other conclusions remain to be drawn. For example:

Oxytocin, which does many other things as well, plays a key role in lactation. When the nipples of a nursing mammal are stimulated, oxytocin is rapidly released from the hypothalamus and stimulates the initial step of milk secretion. Which is supposedly why the washing and manipulation of the utter is an important preliminary to milking a cow. But the oxytocin not only promotes milk but also the milk of human kindness; and presumably, it is not only released when a baby does the sucking. Sexual caresses of the breasts probably also lead to oxytocin release and thereby increase willingness of a woman to take the plunge, always a risky choice.

In the Frogs of Aristophanes, Euripides quotes one of his own lines, “Persuasion, save in speech, no temple hath.” But Persuasion, who the Greeks imagined to be a goddess who helped out the bridegroom on the wedding night, might have another temple or two after all.

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