The “Sponsor” is The New York Times Company, 620 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10018.
The New York Times Modern Love College Essay Contest (“the Contest”) is a skillbased competition in which participants will compete to be selected as author of the top essay, as selected by Sponsor. The author of the winning entry will be awarded $1,000.00 and his/her top essay will be published in The New York Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com.
Participants will be invited to submit essays, which will be voted on and rated by Sponsor. The Contest begins at 10 AM Eastern on Friday, February 10, 2017 and ends at 11:59 PM Eastern on Sunday, March 19, 2017. The Contest will be conducted in two phases. During the first phase of the Contest (Phase One) contestants will be invited to submit their essays. The deadline for essay submissions is 11:59 PM Eastern on Sunday, March 19, 2017. During the second phase of the Contest (Phase Two) the submissions will be voted on and rated by the Judge. The voting will begin at 10 AM Eastern on Monday, March 20, 2017 and end at 11:59 PM Eastern on Monday, April 18, 2017. Daniel Jones, Editor, Modern Love, will serve as judge (“Judge”). Judge will select the Winner (as defined below) based on talent, writing ability, style, creativity and originality of entry. Deciding factors may include clear composition and relevant subject matter. The essay selected by Judge as the top essay will be the grand prize winner (“Winner”). Whether any essay is eligible at any stage shall be at Sponsor’s sole and absolute discretion at all times, including, without limitation, whether any such essay meets Sponsor’s standards of overall quality, as such quality standards are determined by Sponsor, in its sole and absolute discretion. The name of the winner will be published on or around April 28th, 2017, in The New York Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
As a condition of Contest entry, each Contest Entrant (as defined below) acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Sponsor has access to and/or may create or have created literary, visual and/or other materials, ideas and concepts which may be similar or identical to the Contest Entry Materials in theme and/or other respects; (b) the Contest Entrant will not be entitled to any compensation or other consideration because of the use by Sponsor of any such similar or identical material, ideas and/or concepts; and (c) Sponsor’s use of material containing elements similar to or identical with those contained in the Contest Entry Materials or any essay shall not obligate Sponsor to negotiate with nor entitle Contest Entrant to any compensation or other claim.
Potential winner will be tallied by or about Monday, April 18, 2017. Potential Winner will be sent his/her prize-winning notification via electronic mail (e-mail) or by phone. A potential Winner has seven (7) days from receipt of notification to claim his/her prize by responding via electronic mail (e-mail) or an alternate Winner will be selected. Noncompliance with these official rules or, if a selected potential Winner cannot be contacted, provides incorrect e-mail or mailing address, is ineligible, fails to claim a prize or if the prize notification or prize is returned as undeliverable, an alternate Winner will be selected. Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission for Sponsor to use Winner's essay, name and likeness for advertising and promotional purposes without compensation, unless otherwise prohibited by law.
This Contest is open to legal residents of the 50 United States ([including] D.C.) who are current undergraduate students at least 18 years of age and older, residing in the United States and enrolled in an American college or university. Employees and agents of Sponsor, its affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, any other prize sponsor, and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of the Contest and their immediate family members and/or close personal friends and/or those living in the same household of such persons, whether related or not, are not eligible to enter the Contest.
Employees, officers and directors of Sponsor (including Sponsor’s parent company, The New York Times Company (“NYTCO”)), their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, distributors, advertising, promotion, fulfillment and marketing agencies, their immediate families, (defined as spouse, child, sibling, parent, or grandparent) and those living in their same households are NOT eligible to participate in the Promotion. Each Winner will be required to execute a declaration of eligibility and liability release attesting that the Winner has complied with all the rules and that the Winner releases Sponsor(s) and all prize-supplier companies from all liability for damages or personal injury in connection with the Winner's use of the prize, and a publicity release consenting that the Sponsor and anyone they may authorize may, without compensation, use Winner's name, essay, photograph or other likeness, biographical information and statements concerning the Contest or the Sponsor for purposes of advertising and promotion.
HOW TO SUBMIT A CONTEST ENTRY
Any individual wishing to compete in the Contest must submit an essay of no more than 1700 words illustrating the current state of love and relationships, to email@example.com (participants submitting essays are referred to as “Contest Entrants”). Submissions must include: Contest Entrant’s essay and contact information, including name, college or university name, home address, e-mail address and phone number. Each Contest Entrant may submit one essay during the Contest (an “Essay”). Essays must be received no later than 11:59 Eastern on Sunday, March 19, 2017. Any elements appearing in submitted Essays must be entirely original, created by Contest Entrant, and must not have been altered in any way from the original. Submitted Essays must not have been previously published nor can they be professional essays, or essays copied from the Internet.
Use of any elements or other materials that are not original, or in the public domain may result in disqualification of Essay in Sponsor’s sole discretion. By entering, Contest Entrants accept and agree to be bound by these Official Rules, including the decisions of the Sponsor, which are final and binding in all respects. Limit one (1) entry per Contest Entrant and per email address. Any individual who attempts to enter, or in the sole discretion of Sponsor is suspected of entering more than once, by any means, including but not limited to submitting multiple Essays, will be disqualified from the Contest. In addition Sponsor reserves the right to reject any submission without explanation.
CONDITIONS OF CONTEST ENTRY
As conditions of entry into the Contest, each Contest Entrant:
- WARRANTS AND REPRESENTS THAT THE CONTEST ENTRANT OWNS ALL RIGHTS TO THE ESSAY HE/SHE IS SUBMITTING (COLLECTIVELY, THE “CONTEST ENTRY MATERIALS”).
- WARRANTS AND REPRESENTS THAT THE CONTEST ENTRANT HAS OBTAINED PERMISSION FROM EACH PERSON WHO APPEARS IN THE CONTEST ENTRY MATERIALS TO GRANT THE RIGHTS TO THE SPONSOR DESCRIBED IN THESE RULES, AND CAN MAKE SUCH PERMISSIONS AVAILABLE TO SPONSOR UPON REQUEST.
- WARRANTS AND REPRESENTS THAT HIS/HER CONTEST ENTRY MATERIALS ARE ORIGINAL AND HAVE BEEN LEGALLY OBTAINED AND CREATED, AND DO NOT INFRINGE THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS OR ANY OTHER LEGAL OR MORAL RIGHTS OF ANY THIRD PARTY.
- Irrevocably grants to Sponsor and its affiliates, legal representatives, assigns, agents and licensees, the worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub licensable, unconditional, perpetual and transferable right and license to copyright (only as applicable), reproduce, encode, store, modify, copy, transmit, publish, post, broadcast, display, edit for length and content, publicly perform, adapt, exhibit and/or otherwise use or reuse (without limitation as to when or to the number of times used), the Contest Entrant’s name, address, image, likeness, statements, biographical material and Contest Entry Materials, including, but not limited to, the Essays contained in any of the above items, as well as any additional photographic images and other materials relating to the Contest Entrant and arising out of his/her participation in this Contest (with or without using the Contest Entrant’s name) (collectively, the “Additional Materials”) (in each case, as submitted or as edited/modified in any way, whether by the Sponsor, its Licensees, or assigns, in the Sponsor’s sole discretion) in any media throughout the world for any purpose, without limitation, and without additional review, compensation, or approval from the Contest Entrant or any other party.
- Irrevocably grants to Sponsor and its affiliates, legal representatives, assigns, agents and licensees, the worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub licensable, unconditional, perpetual and transferable right and license to use the Contest Entry Materials for advertising, promotional or commercial purposes, including without limitation, the right to publicly display, reproduce and distribute the Contest Entry Materials in any media format or medium and through any media channels. Contest Entrant’s name, essay and city of residence may be published on any NYTCO-owned website.
- Forever waives any rights of privacy, intellectual property rights, and any other legal or moral rights that may preclude Sponsor’s use of the Contest Entrant’s Contest Entry Materials or Additional Materials, or require the Contest Entrant’s permission for Sponsor to use them for promotional purposes, and agrees to never sue or assert any claim against the Sponsor’s use of those Materials.
- Acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Sponsor has access to and/or may create or have created literary, visual and/or materials, ideas and concepts which may be similar or identical to the Contest Entry Materials in theme and/or other respects; (b) the Contest Entrant will not be entitled to any compensation or other consideration because of the use by Sponsor of any such similar or identical material, ideas and/or concepts; and (c) Sponsor’s use of material containing elements similar to or identical with those contained in the Contest Entry Materials or any Essay shall not obligate Sponsor to negotiate with nor entitle Entrant to any compensation or other claim.
- Agrees to indemnify and hold the Sponsor and its affiliates, officers, directors, agents, co-branders or other partners, and any of their employees (collectively, the “Promotion Indemnitees”), harmless from any and all claims, damages, expenses, costs (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) and liabilities (including settlements), brought or asserted by any third party against any of the Promotion Indemnitees arising out of or in connection with: (a) any Contest Entry Materials or Additional Materials (including, but not limited to, any and all claims of third parties, whether or not groundless, based on the submission of such other material); (b) any breach by Contest Entrant of any warranty, agreement or representation contained in the Official Rules or terms of service or in any documentation submitted by Contest Entrant; (c) the Contest Entrant’s conduct during and in connection with this Contest, including but not limited to trademark, copyright, or other intellectual property rights, right of publicity, right of privacy or defamation; or (d) the acceptance of any prize. All entries become the property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned.
SPONSOR’S RIGHT TO DISQUALIFY
At any time during the Contest, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and unfettered discretion, to disqualify and remove any Essay that it believes does not meet the spirit or requirements of the Official Rules. The decisions of the Sponsor on this and all matter relating to the Contest are final and binding.
WINNER SELECTION PROCESS
Entries will be rated from March 20, 2017 to April 18, 2017. Daniel Jones, Editor, Modern Love, will serve as judge (“Judge”). Judge will select the Winner based on talent, writing ability, style, creativity and originality of entry. Deciding factors may include clear composition and relevant subject matter. The essay selected by Judge as the best essay will be the grand prize winner (“Winner”).
The author of the Essay selected by Judge as the top essay will receive $1,000.00 and his/her top essay will be published in The New York Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com. Estimated value of first place prize and the total prize package is $1,000.00.
Four runners-up will also be selected. Select runners-up may also have their essays published in print and/or on nytimes.com.
If Winner is unable to fulfill prize during time period specified, Winner forfeits the prize package. Winner must be 18 years of age or older. Prizes are non-transferable and shall be deemed to have no cash value. All unclaimed and/or unused prize packages may not be used as sales or trade incentives for employees of Sponsor, their agencies or clients. No prize substitution is permitted, except by Sponsor, which reserves the right to substitute any prize of equal or comparable value including cash in the event of prize unavailability. Prizes are non-transferable.
Prize consists of only the item specifically listed above. No substitution or transfer of prize is permitted, except that Sponsor reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value in the event that an offered prize is unavailable. All federal, state and local taxes on prizes are the sole responsibility of the Winner. Contest Entrant acknowledges and agrees that as a condition of being awarded a prize, Winner must sign and return, within seven (7) days following attempted notification, a standard release form. Noncompliance within this time period may result in disqualification and an alternate Winner may be selected.
Sponsor and its officers, directors, affiliates, related entities, partners, partnerships, principals, representatives, agents, licensees, sponsors, successors and assigns: (a) make no warranty, guaranty or representation of any kind concerning any prize; (b) disclaim any implied warranty; and (c) are not liable for injury, loss, or damage of any kind resulting from the acceptance or use of any prize, travel related thereto or from participation in this Contest.
If any activity relating to any prize is canceled or postponed for any reason, the balance of that prize will be awarded in full satisfaction of prize award.
All taxes, fees and surcharges on prizes won are the sole responsibility of the Winner.
The Contest is governed by and subject to the laws of the United States. All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply. Void where prohibited by law. All Winners will receive an IRS 1099 for the value of their prizes. By participating in the Contest and/or accepting any prize, Contest Entrants grant permission to Sponsor and its advertising and promotion agencies to use their name(s), likeness(es), essays and any other material submitted in connection with the Contest for purposes of advertising, publicity and promotion purposes, without further compensation to Contest Entrant, unless prohibited by law. By entering, the Contest Entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules and the decisions of the Sponsor, which are final and binding on all matters relating to the Contest. Sponsor is not responsible for any typographical or other errors in the printing of the offer, administration of the Contest or the announcement of the prizes, or for lost, late, misdirected, damaged, incomplete or illegal entries.
Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify the Contest Entry of any individual found to be: (a) tampering or attempting to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Contest or any Sponsor website; (b) violating the Official Rules; (c) violating the terms of service, conditions of use and/or general rules or guidelines of any Sponsor property or service; or (d) acting in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. Further, Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any entry which, in Sponsor’s sole opinion, is deemed to be offensive, libelous, slanderous, inflammatory, or otherwise inappropriate in any way for this Contest. CAUTION ANY ATTEMPT BY A CONTEST ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEBSITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE CONTEST MAY BE A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.
LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY
Sponsor assumes no responsibility for any computer, online, telephone transmission or technical malfunctions that may occur during participation in the Contest (including, without limitation, the voting phases of the Contest), or theft, destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of, Contest Entry Materials. Sponsor is not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by website users, Contest Entrants, or any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Contest, or for any technical or human error which may occur in the processing of submissions or votes in the Contest. Sponsor assumes no responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation of transmission, failures or technical malfunction of any telephone network or lines, computer online systems, servers, providers, computer equipment, software, email, players or browsers, whether on account of technical problems, traffic congestion on the Internet or at any website, or on account of any combination of the foregoing (including but not limited to any such problems which may result in the inability to access the Contest website or to submit Contest Entry Materials in connection with the Contest). Sponsor is not responsible for any injury or damage to participants or to any computer related to or resulting from participating or downloading materials in this Contest. If, for any reason, the Contest is not capable of running as planned, including infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures, or any other causes beyond the control of Sponsor which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of this Contest, Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest and select Winners from among that portion of the Contest that has not been compromised, if any. Sponsor reserves the right to cancel this Contest at any time without obligation or prior notice.
Except where prohibited, as a condition of participating in this Contest, Contest Entrants agree that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, claims and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Contest, any prize awarded, or the determination of Winners shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will Contest Entrant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental or consequential damages, or any other damages, including attorneys’ fees, other than Contest Entrant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (e.g. costs associated with entering this Contest), and Contest Entrant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased. In the event of a dispute as to the identity of a Winner based on email address, the winning entry will be declared made by the Authorized Account Holder of the email address submitted at time of entry. For purposes of these Official Rules, “Authorized Account Holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider or other organization (e.g. business, educational, institution, etc.) that is responsible for assigning email addresses for the domain associated with the submitted email address.
All issues and questions regarding rights and obligations of Contest Entrants in connection with this Contest shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the State of New York, U.S.A., without giving effect to the conflict of laws and rules thereof and any matters or proceedings which are not subject to arbitration as set forth in these Official Rules and/or for entering any judgment on an arbitration award, shall take place in the State of New York.
The parties waive rights to trial by jury in any action or proceeding instituted in connection with these Official Rules and/or this Contest. Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to these Official Rules and/or this Contest shall be settled by binding arbitration in accordance with the commercial arbitration rules of the American Arbitration Association. Any such controversy or claim shall be arbitrated on an individual basis, and shall not be consolidated in any arbitration with any claim or controversy of any other party. The arbitration shall be conducted in the State of New York and judgment on the arbitration award may be entered into any court having jurisdiction thereof.
WINNER’S LIST/RULES REQUESTS
For a copy of the Official Rules or the Winners’ names, send a separate, stamped, selfaddressed envelope to:
The New York Times Modern Love College Essay Contest, 620 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10018.
Requests received after June 1, 2017 may not be honored.
Nearly 60 years ago, a decade before the counterculture erupted throughout the United States and beyond, Aldous Huxley described his first experience with psychedelic drugs in The Doors of Perception (1954). The book’s title cast back to the metaphorical language of the English Romantic poet and printmaker William Blake, who wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790):
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
Huxley likened the human brain to a reducing valve. It functions to limit your awareness to only those perceptions, ideas, and memories that might be useful for your survival at any given moment, eliminating all else. Although narrowed awareness prevents you from becoming overwhelmed by a flood of images and impressions, it can become an overlearned habit, a self-limiting cavern that you become convinced is reality. But Huxley believed there were ways out:
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Certain persons … seem to be born with a kind of bypass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary bypasses may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate ‘spiritual exercises’, or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs.
Huxley’s hypothesis that the doors of perception can temporarily swing open wider than usual — even seemingly spontaneously — is now confirmed by brain imaging experiments. Importantly, however, you don’t need drugs, hypnosis, or lofty spiritual experiences to open those doors. Sometimes all it takes is a little love. But to understand this you will need to set aside your preconceptions of what love is.
It’s difficult to speak of love in scientific terms, I’ve found, because listeners have so many pre-existing and strong beliefs about it. Many of these beliefs reflect our shared cultural heritage, like all those proliferating songs and movies that equate love with infatuation or sexual desire, or with stories that end happily ever after, or even the realistic marriage ceremonies that celebrate love as an exclusive bond and commitment. Other beliefs about love are deeply personal. They reflect your own unique life history, with its interpersonal triumphs and scars, lessons about intimacy learnt and not yet learnt. Left unaddressed, these preconceptions can derail any serious intellectual discussion of love. They might even keep you from soaking up the full implications of the new findings on love.
The bedrock for my approach to love is the science of emotions. For more than two decades, I’ve investigated that subset of emotions that feel good to you, those pleasing states — of joy, amusement, gratitude, hope, and the like — that simultaneously infuse your mind and body. Odds are you shift into and out of states such as these dozens of times each day, sometimes when you’re alone, sometimes when you’re with others.
Even though you experience positive emotions as exquisitely subtle and brief, such moments can ignite powerful forces of growth in your life. They do this first by opening you up: your outlook quite literally expands as you come under the influence of any of several positive emotions. With this momentarily broadened, more encompassing mindset, you become more flexible, attuned to others, creative, and wise. Over time, you also become more resourceful. In fact, my research and that of others shows that positive emotions can set off upward spirals in your life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become a better version of yourself.
Positive emotions are the tiny engines that drive an intricate, ever-churning positivity system. They are the active ingredients that set the rest in motion. When I step back from the proverbial microscope to examine the larger system that orbits around your positive emotions, I see how positive emotions knit you into the fabric of life, the social fabric that unites you with others, and how they orchestrate the ways you grow and rebound through changing circumstances. I needed a new word to encompass that broader system, and that’s positivity.
Love, and its absence, fundamentally alters the biochemicals in which your body is steeped
Keeping an eye on this fuller positivity system enables a more precise definition of love. Love — like all the other positive emotions — follows the ancestral logic of broaden and build: those pleasant yet fleeting moments of connection that you experience with others expand your awareness in ways that accrue to create lasting and beneficial changes in your life. Love, as I see it, is found in those moments of warmth, connection and openness to another person. It energises this whole system and sets it into motion.
Just as your body was designed to extract oxygen from the Earth’s atmosphere, and nutrients from the foods you ingest, your body was designed to love. Love — like taking a deep breath, or eating an orange when you’re depleted and thirsty — not only feels great but is also life-giving, an indispensable source of energy, sustenance, and health. In describing love like this, I’m not just taking poetic licence, but drawing on science: new science that illuminates for the first time how love, and its absence, fundamentally alters the biochemicals in which your body is steeped. They, in turn, can alter the very ways your DNA gets expressed within your cells.
We know now that a steady diet of love — of these micro-moments of positive connection — influences how people grow and change, making them healthier and more resilient. And we’re beginning to understand exactly how this works, by tracking the complex chain of biological reactions that cascade throughout your body and change your behaviour in ways that influence those around you as you experience love.
It’s all too tempting, especially in Western culture, to take your body to be a noun. Like other concrete things that you can see and touch, you typically describe your body with reference to its stable physical properties, such as your height, your weight, your skin tone, your apparent age, and the like. You recognise, of course, that five years from now, your body’s physical properties might shift a bit — you might, for instance, become a little shorter, a little heavier, a little paler, or look a little older. Still, you’re comfortable with the idea that your body remains pretty much the same from day to day.
Yet constancy, as ancient Eastern philosophies warn, is an illusion, a trick of the mind. Impermanence is the rule — constant change the only constancy. This is especially true for living things, which, by definition, must adapt to their changing environment. Just as plants turn toward the sun and track its arc from dawn to dusk, your own heart alters its activity with each postural shift, each new emotion, even each breath you take. Seen in this light, your body is more verb than noun: it shifts, cascades, and pulsates; it connects and builds; it erodes and flushes.
Mere photographs fail to capture these non-stop and mostly unseen churning dynamics. Instead, you need movies. Increasingly, scientists work to capture these and other dynamic changes as they unfurl within living, breathing, and interacting bodies. True, scientists need to understand form as well as function, anatomy as well as physiology, nouns as well as verbs. Yet when it comes to love, verbs rule. Love lies in the action, the doing, the connecting. It wells up, like a wave forming in the ocean, and then dissipates, like that same wave, after its crash. To fully appreciate love’s biology, you’ll need to train your eye to see this ever-shifting ebb and flow.
Here I want to turn a spotlight on two of the main biological characters in the play of your life: the hormone, oxytocin, which circulates throughout your brain and body; and your vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from deep within your brainstem down to your heart, lungs, and other internal organs. Together with the brain (which is the locus for our feeling of being ‘in synch’ with another person and the subject of compelling new research about how that happens), these are the three central characters in love’s biology.
The mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raised the trustee’s naturally occurring levels of oxytocin
As you interact with one person after another during the day, these three biological characters gently nudge you to attend to other people more closely and forge connections when possible. They shape your motives and behaviours in subtle ways, and ultimately their actions serve to strengthen your relationships and knit you in closer to the social fabric of life.
Oxytocin, a neuropeptide that acts both in the brain and the rest of the body, has long been known to play a key role in social bonding and attachment. Evidence of this first emerged in 1994 from experiments by researchers at the University of Maryland with a monogamous breed of prairie voles: oxytocin, when dripped into one animal’s brain in the presence of the opposite sex, creates in that animal a long-lasting preference to remain together with the other, cuddled up side by side.
In humans, oxytocin surges during sexual intercourse for both men and women, and, for women, during childbirth and lactation, pivotal interpersonal moments that stand to forge new social bonds or cement existing ones. The natural blasts of oxytocin during such moments are so large and powerful that for many years they all but blinded scientists to the more subtle ebb and flow of oxytocin during more typical day-to-day activities, such as playing with your kids, getting to know your new neighbour, or striking a deal with a new business partner. Technical obstacles also needed to be cleared, as it was difficult, until recently, to reliably and non-invasively measure and manipulate oxytocin during natural behaviour.
Dramatic new evidence of oxytocin’s power to shape your social life first surfaced in Europe, where laws permitted the use of a synthetic form of oxytocin, available as a nasal spray, for experimental purposes. Among the first of these studies was one from 2005 in which 128 men from Zurich played the so-called ‘trust game’ with real monetary outcomes on the line. At random, these men were assigned to either the role of ‘investor’ or the role of ‘trustee’, and each was given an equivalent pot of starting funds. Investors could give some, all, or none of their allocated funds to the trustee. If they did ‘invest’ in the trustee, the experimenter would triple their investment. Trustees could then return some, all, or none of their new allotment of funds (the investors’ tripled investment plus their own original allocation) back to investors. So the investors were being asked to take a risk on the trustee, who could refuse to pay any money back. But if the trustee was fair, they could each double their money.
Prior to playing, participants received either oxytocin or an inert placebo by nasal spray. The effect of this single intranasal blast of oxytocin on the outcome of the trust game was dramatic: the number of investors who trusted their entire allotment to their trustee more than doubled. Interestingly, related research using this same trust game showed that the mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raised the trustee’s naturally occurring levels of oxytocin, and that the greater the trustee’s oxytocin rise, the more of his recent windfall he sacrificed back to the investor. These findings suggest that through synchronous oxytocin surges, trust and co-operation can quickly become mutual.
Since the original study on oxytocin and the trust game was published in Nature in June 2005, variations on it have abounded. We now know, for instance, that oxytocin doesn’t simply make people more trusting with money, it also makes them far more trusting — a whopping 44 per cent more trusting — with confidential information about themselves. The simple act of sharing an important secret from your life with someone you just met increases your naturally circulating levels of oxytocin, which in turn raises your confidence that you can trust that person to guard your privacy.
Fortunately oxytocin does not induce indiscriminate trust: its effects are quite sensitive to interpersonal cues that tip you off that another person might be the gambling type or irresponsible in other ways. If oxytocin spray were to be aerated through your workplace ventilation system, you’d still maintain your shrewd attunement to subtle signs that suggest whether someone is worthy of your trust or not.
Researchers who have combined the use of oxytocin nasal spray (versus placebo) with brain imaging have also learnt that oxytocin modulates the activity of your amygdala, the subcortical structure deep within your brain linked to emotional processing. Specifically, under the influence of a single blast of oxytocin nasal spray, the parts of your amygdala that tune in to threats are muted, whereas the parts that tune in to positive social opportunities are amplified. A single shot of oxytocin can help you glide through stressful social situations, like giving an impromptu speech or discussing a conflict-ridden topic with your spouse. If you were to face these difficulties under the influence of oxytocin, studies suggest, you’d have less cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, coursing through you, and you’d behave more positively, both verbally, by disclosing your feelings, and non-verbally, by making more eye contact and friendly gestures. Related research shows that behaving kindly in these ways also raises your naturally occurring levels of oxytocin, which in turn curbs stress-induced rises in heart rate and blood pressure, reduces feelings of depression, and increases your pain thresholds.
More generally, oxytocin is a key factor in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the far more familiar fight-or-flight response. Oxytocin appears both to calm fears that might steer you away from interacting with strangers and also to sharpen your skills for connection. Rather than avoid new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life’.
Oxytocin can also jump the gap between people: another person’s oxytocin flow can trigger your own. The clearest evidence that oxytocin rises and falls in synchrony between people comes from studies of infants and their parents. When an infant and a parent — either mum or dad — interact, sometimes they are truly captivated by each other, and other times not. When an infant and parent do click, their coordinated motions and emotions show lots of mutual positive engagement. Picture parents who shower their baby with kisses, tickle their baby’s fingers and toes, smile at their baby, and speak to him or her in that high-pitched, sing-song tone that scientists call motherese. These parents are super-attentive. As they tickle and coo, they’re also closely tracking their baby’s face for signs that their delight is mutual. In step with their parent’s affectionate antics, attentive babies babble, coo, smile, and giggle back. Positivity resonates back and forth between them — micro-moments of love.
Of course, not every infant-parent interaction is so rosy. Some pairs show little attunement and engagement. Some mums and dads rarely make eye contact with their infants and emit precious little positivity, either verbally or non-verbally. And in those rare moments when they are engaged, the vibe that joins them is distinctly more negative. They connect over mutual distress or indifference, rather than over mutual affection.
It turns out that positive behavioural synchrony — the degree to which an infant and a parent laugh, smile, and coo together — goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, mums, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into synch. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.
Positivity resonance, then, can be viewed as the doorway through which the exquisitely attuned biochemical tendencies of one generation influence those of the next generation to form lasting, often lifelong bonds. Love, we know, builds lasting resources. Oxytocin, studies show, helps to swing the hammer.
The person you are today is also shaped by the second biological character that I want you to meet: your tenth cranial, or vagus, nerve. It emerges from your brainstem deep within your skull and makes multiple stops at your various internal organs and, most significantly, connects your brain to your heart. You already know that your heart rate shoots up when you feel insulted or threatened — registering the ancestral fight-or-flight response — but you might not know that it’s your vagus nerve that eventually soothes your racing heart, by orchestrating (together with oxytocin) the equally ancestral calm-and-connect response.
Your vagus nerve is a biological asset that supports and coordinates your bodily experiences of connection — of love. Outside your conscious awareness, the vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronise your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the minuscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track the other person’s voice against any background noise.
Scientists can measure the strength of your vagus nerve — your biological aptitude for connectivity — simply by tracking your heart rate in conjunction with your breathing rate. I can measure how your heart rate, as tracked by sensors placed on your lowest ribs, is patterned by your breathing rate, as revealed by an expandable bellows that encircles your rib cage. This pattern is called vagal tone. Like muscle tone, the higher your vagal tone, the better.
In addition to putting the brakes on the big jumps in your heart rate that might be caused by stress, fear, or exertion, your vagus nerve also increases the routine efficiency of your heart, beat by beat, or more precisely, breath by breath. The human heart rate tends to run fairly high, as if we’re always on guard for the next danger that might be hidden around the corner.
Remarkably, people with higher vagal tone are more flexible across a whole host of domains — physical, mental, and social
When you’re breathing in, a fast heart rate is an efficient heart rate. After all, each successive heartbeat during an in-breath circulates more freshly oxygenated blood throughout your brain and body. Yet when you’re breathing out, a fast heart rate is not all that helpful because your supply of freshly oxygenated blood is waning. Here again, your vagus nerve steps in to help out. It can very gently apply the brake on your heart while you exhale, slowing your heart rate down a small degree. In turn, your vagus nerve can gently ease up on the brake while you inhale, letting your naturally high heart rate resume grabbing all the oxygenated blood that it can get. This subtle cardiac arrhythmia is the pattern that reflects your vagal tone, the strength or condition of your vagus nerve. It characterises the nimbleness with which your primitive, nonconscious brain holds the reins on your galloping heart.
Remarkably, people with higher vagal tone are more flexible across a whole host of domains — physical, mental, and social. They adapt better to their ever-shifting circumstances, albeit completely at nonconscious levels. Physically, they regulate internal bodily processes such as glucose levels and inflammation more efficiently. Mentally, they’re better able to regulate their attention and emotions, even their behaviour, and navigate interpersonal connections. By definition, then, they experience more micro-moments of love. It’s as though the agility of the conduit between their brains and hearts — as reflected in their high vagal tone — allows them to be more agile, attuned, and flexible as they navigate the ups and downs of day-to-day life and social exchanges. Indeed, this is what doctoral student Bethany Kok and I have found: compared with people with lower vagal tone, those with higher vagal tone experience more love in their daily lives, more moments of positivity resonance.
But can you change your vagal tone? My students and I work together in our PEP Lab, the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory. Not long ago, we conducted an experiment on the effects of learning the ancient mind-training practice of loving-kindness meditation. Our study participants visited the PEP Lab at the University of North Carolina one by one, and we measured their vagal tone while they sat and relaxed for a few minutes. At the end of this initial laboratory testing session, we instructed participants in how to log on to the study website each evening to record their emotions and social connections of the day. A few weeks later, by random assignment, we chose which participants would learn loving-kindness meditation and which would not. All would continue to monitor their day-to-day emotions and social connections using our study website. Months later, weeks after the meditation workshop ended, one by one we invited all participants back to the PEP Lab, where we again measured their vagal tone under the same resting conditions as before.
In May 2010, I had the honour of presenting the results of this experiment directly to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Our team had discovered that vagal tone — which is commonly taken to be as stable an attribute as your adult height — actually improves significantly with mind-training. Here is your evidence-based reason for hope: no matter what your biological capacity for experiencing love is today, you can bolster that capacity by next season.
Study participants who had been assigned at random to learn loving-kindness meditation had devoted scarcely more than an hour of their time each week to the practice. Yet within a matter of months, their vagus nerves began to respond more readily to the rhythms of their breathing, emitting more of that healthy arrhythmia that is the fingerprint of high vagal tone. Breath by breath — moment by moment — their capacity for positivity resonance matured. Moreover, through painstaking statistical analyses, we pinpointed that those who experienced the most frequent positivity resonance in connection with others showed the biggest increases in vagal tone. Love literally made people healthier.
The new science of love makes it clear that your body acts as a verb. Sure enough, some aspects of your body remain relatively constant day in and day out, like your DNA or your eye colour. But your brain continually registers your ever-changing circumstances and, in turn, orchestrates the flux of biochemicals that reshape your body and brain from the inside out, at the cellular level. Your body takes action. Most notably, it broadcasts everything you feel — your moments of positivity resonance or their lack — to every part of you, readying you for either health or illness, and rendering you either more or less equipped for loving connection.
Learning how love works can make a clear difference in your life. It can help you prioritise moments of shared positive emotions and elevate your faith in humanity. Science need not inevitably leave you holding a flat corkboard with a dismembered butterfly pinned to it. Science can also glorify, painting a colourful and multidimensional road map for a more potent life journey, one that eliminates the detours of false hopes, false prophets, false claims, and charts a course toward the real thing. It can leave the butterfly alive and whole and set it free.
Adapted and reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. from LOVE 2.0 by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. Copyright © Barbara L. Fredrickson, 2013.
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is professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. Her latest book is Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become (2013).