Is Your Love Pink or Blue?

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There are real differences in the brains of men and women. Whether they're the result of nature or nurture doesn't matter as much as understanding how they affect our daily lives -- and especially our love lives. Susan Kuchinskas, author of The Chemistry of Connection, says that understanding how men and women bond can help our love relationships thrive.

In her controversial new book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot argues that differences in the brains of men and women -- as well as the differences in behavior they create -- can be attributed to differences in the way parents treat their male and female children. For example, Eliot writes that parents may perceive boy babies as more physically competent but less emotionally responsive, leading them to give boys more freedom but less emotional support.

Brain science has added plenty of data to the nature/nurture debate, without solving the mystery. But, no matter how a boy's brain becomes different from a girl's, those differences show up in our daily lives -- and especially in our love lives.

"There are real differences in the way men and women bond, that seem due to brain chemistry, not nurture," says Susan Kuchinskas, author of The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust Intimacy and Love (New Harbinger 2009; http://www.chemistryofconnection.com). Her book explains how oxytocin, the brain chemical responsible for trust, generosity and love, is influenced by estrogen and testosterone.

As we continue to move toward gender equality in culture and the workplace, we may find ourselves confused and lonely if we don't understand that there are real differences in the ways women and men love, Kuchinskas says.

While differences in bonding behavior among mammals such as the prairie vole are well-documented, The Chemistry of Connection (http://www.newharbinger.com/client/client_images/NHpdfs/ChemistryOfConnection.pdf) provides insight into the latest human studies of oxytocin and vasopressin, both of which are influenced by estrogen and testosterone. Studies using brain-scanning have found that women's brains are more susceptible to the calming effect of oxytocin, for example.

"Because estrogen enhances the bonding effects of oxytocin while testosterone mutes them, it makes sense that a man, with higher levels of testosterone in the brain, would bond differently than a woman. In addition to oxytocin, male bonding may be strongly influenced by vasopressin, another brain chemical. In animals, vasopressin produces territorial, protective behaviors, such as guarding the nest and driving away unfamiliar females," Kuchinskas says.

When men inhaled vasopressin in the laboratory, they were more likely to perceive photos of people with neutral expressions as threatening; women did not. "This is evidence that vasopressin have a similar effect on the way a man bonds, making him take on the traditional role of family protector."

Kuchinskas advises parents to try to respond to their children as individuals, helping them to develop their unique talents and interests. At the same time, as we interact in adult love relationships, understanding and respecting our differences will lead to happier, more harmonious relationships.

"You can break the chain of failed romance and learn to fall in love forever," Kuchinskas says. "The key is understanding the biology of love -- and how to apply this knowledge."

The powerful man and passive woman are stereotypes. The human ability to shape our own fate has created handywomen, hard-charging female executives and stay-at-home dads who are as good with a spatula as a hammer.

"But if you're a woman wondering why he won't pick up his socks, or a man tired of being nagged about picking up his socks, it may help to remember that you're hearing the whispers of eons of evolution, so you should cut the other person some slack."

Susan Kuchinskas writes the blog Hug the Monkey (http://www.hugthemonkey.com), which covers oxytocin's influence on sex, relationships, parenting and therapeutics. She has appeared on Fox's Mornings with Mike and Juliet, KGO's View from the Bay, and Michael Roizin's Health Radio Network. A veteran journalist, she writes the "Mind Matters" column for WebMD and reports on health and wellness for Health Behavior News Service and Miller-McCune Magazine. For a list of her media appearances, see http://chemistryofconnection.com/pressforchemistryofconnection.aspx.

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