The GAY (MAN)ual – 100 Things Every Man Should Know #4

Acne Treatment

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and finding a big, red pimple on your face. Most of us had when we were teenagers but some of us still suffer from acne breakouts well into our twenties and beyond.

Last year, I also started to have acne breakouts out of the blue after years of enjoying my smooth, acne free skin. I knew at the time that acne was caused by clogged pores so I thought I was doing the right thing when I washed my face every day, twice a day, with a heavy-duty exfoliating face wash. And to no one’s surprise, my acne problem didn’t get any better—in fact, it got worse! That’s when I decided to do my homework and actually learn about acne – the science behind what causes them and their treatments – through actual scientific research (and not what some girl says on Youtube).

So what causes acne and how should you treat it? Keep reading below to find out!

What is Acne?

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To understand what causes acne, we must first understand how our skin works. Our skin has three parts to it: the uppermost layer, which is called the epidermis, the middle layer – where the sebaceous glands are located, called the dermis, and the bottom layer – where the hair follicle starts, called the subcutaneous tissue.

When our pores are unclogged and our sebaceous glands are producing the right amount of oil, all is well. However, problems start occurring when there is too much oil, a clogged pore, or a bacterial infection.

Contrary to what many people believe, a clogged pore is usually caused by a condition called hyperkeratinization, and not the result of poor hygiene or a “dirty” face. Normally, skin cells along the hair follicle detach at regular intervals and are then forced out by the growing hair. But when your skin makes too much keratin, which is largely influenced by genetics, these dead skin cells do not leave the follicle. The excess keratin and oil makes the dead skin cells adhere to each other, making it much more likely for a clog to form and cause acne.

In addition to clogged pores and excess oil, bacteria is the third member of the acne triad that we should know about. The bacteria that causes acne (Propionibacterium acnes) is an anaerobic organism that lives deep within the follicles of our skin and gets its energy by metabolizing the oil produced by the sebaceous glands. The bacteria itself is pretty harmless and does not cause a problem if our pores remain unclogged and lets any of the excess sebum that is produced to rise to the top of our skin. The trouble arises, however, when the sebum remains in a clog in the pore. It is in these cases where the bacteria rapidly multiples, triggers an inflammatory reaction, and the resulting red pimple.

The Different Types of Acne

There are five distinct types of acne, and can be separated into two distinct groups: inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.

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The two most common are whiteheads and blackheads, which are the non-inflammatory type of acne.

Whiteheads form when the pore is blocked near the top of the epidermis. The sludge of bacteria, sebum, white blood cells and dead skin cells remain trapped beneath the surface of the skin with only a microscopic opening, not big enough for the contents of the pore to be excreted out.

A blackhead, or an open comedo, is a wide opening on the skin with a blackened mass of skin debris covering the opening.  They are filled with plugs of sebum and sloughed-off cells and have undergone a chemical reaction resulting in the oxidation of melanin. This gives the material in the follicle the typical black color.

When a pore becomes blocked and causes the wall of the pore to collapses and release the bacteria-ridden clog of skin cells and sebum into the dermis layer of the skin, it leads to other, more severe forms of acne lesions. Among these are papules, pustules, and cysts.

Papules are small bumps that appear on your skin and have a rough texture. These occur when the wall of a hair follicle break and cave in. The visible inflammation is due to white blood cells rushing in and trying to contain the bacterial sludge in the compromised pore.

Pustules are simply the medical term for pimples or zits. They are visible several days after papules have formed, when the white blood cells rise to the surface of the skin. Like cystic acne, pustules can be large and painful.

The most severe type of acne is when the inflammation reaches deep into the skin and an acne cyst forms. This happens when the bottom of the follicle breaks, and causes the follicle to completely collapse and spread the mixture of pus, bacteria and oil into surrounding tissue. Cysts are therefore very painful and people often see permanent scarring after this type of acne.

How To Treat Acne

Acne is caused by clogged pores, bacterial infection, and excess sebum production. Therefore, effective acne treatments work by speeding up the skin cell turnover (thereby reducing the chances of pore blockage), fighting bacterial infection, and reducing oil production.

For treating mild acne, like treating blackheads and whiteheads, we’re going to focus on the first two.

STEP 1:

We need to first start off with a mild facial cleanser with glycolic or salicylic acid, like DHC’s Salicylic Acne Wash.

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These are chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells from the skin and helps reduce the chances of future breakouts. It’s important to remember that acne-prone skin is typically not the result of poor hygiene or a dirty face. So avoid the urge to scrub your face too hard because that will likely cause more irritation in the skin, making the acne worse. When cleansing, be gentle and imagine you’re washing the soft skin of a baby’s face. Let these chemical exfoliants do their work and avoid scrubbing your face too harshly. Do this twice a day.

STEP 2:

Next, we must deal with the bacteria. The gold standard is a topical cream containing benzoyl peroxide. I use Neutrogena’s On-the-Spot Acne Treatment.

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The painful inflammatory acne that we experience is caused by our body’s immune response to the bacteria in our pores. Merely cleansing our face does not deal with the bacteria, so we need to do something else to address this issue. A topical cream containing benzoyl peroxide is your best bet, since it does three important things to fight acne all at once.

First, it works as an exfoliant by helping dissolve those clogs of dead cells and oil after they form. Second, it has antibacterial properties that kill the bacteria that cause acne. If you remember, the acne bacteria Propionibacterium acnes is an anaerobic organism, meaning it can only survive in oxygen-deprived environments. Benzoyl peroxide injects oxygen into the skin and makes it uninhabitable for the bacteria, effectively killing them without the use antibiotics. And finally, the same oxygen rich environment that prevents acne from multiplying also helps in the healing of all types of acne. Apply a thin layer of the cream all over your face, and a second layer over the problem areas.

STEP 3:

Finally, moisturize your skin with an oil-free moisturizer. I switch between Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream and DHC’s Salicylic Face Milk, depending on the condition of my skin that day.

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The constant exfoliation and stripping of oils from our skin may excessively dry out our skin and therefore increase the chances of irritation. Properly reintroducing hydration into the skin not only eliminates flakiness which benzoyl peroxide can produce, it also helps prevent the skin from becoming red or irritated. But before putting anything on, make sure it is labeled “water-based,” “oil-free,” or “non-comodogenic”. Some moisturizers have ingredients in them that have been clinically shown to aggravate acne, so you want to make sure you stay away from those.

The table below from Acne.org lists ingredients which score a 3 or above on the 0-5 comedogenicity scale. If any of these are within the first seven ingredients on the ingredient list of a product you are choosing, you may want to reconsider.

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Time to Call in The Specialist

If you don’t see a change in your acne condition or if it gets worse from using over the counter treatments, you should consult a dermatologist. Here are some treatments they may recommend:

Antibiotics – Oral antibiotics, such as tetracycline and doxycycline, are often prescribed for acne. If you eliminate the bacteria that cause inflammatory acne, then you get no acne. Taking antibiotics as directed will help your acne clear but the downside is that there may be a bacterial resistance with prolonged use.

Interlesional Corticosteroid Injection – When an acne cyst becomes severely inflamed, there is a good chance that it will rupture and scarring may result. To treat these severely inflamed cysts and prevent scarring, dermatologists may inject such cysts with a much-diluted corticosteroid. This lessens the inflammation and promotes healing.

Topical Retinoids – Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A and considered a cornerstone in acne treatment. They work by regulating the cellular turnover in the skin cells to unclog pores and prevent whiteheads and blackheads from forming. Topical retinoids can irritate the skin and increase sun sensitivity so it is important to use sun protection and follow the dermatologist’s directions to maximize effectiveness. An added benefit in using topical retinoids is that they may help diminish the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Oral Contraceptives – Oral contraceptives have been shown to effectively clear acne in women by reducing androgens (male sex hormones) in the body. Studies have shown a causal link between the dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and overactive sebaceous glands in women. The more DHT a woman  has, the more likely she is to have acne. This makes sense, since puberty is when we first start experiencing acne breakouts, the same time our hormones kick into overdrive. By suppressing androgens in the body, you are also effectively suppressing the overactive sebaceous glands.

Lasers – Laser therapy works on the premise of exciting compounds called porphyrins (a type of pigment), which are inside acne bacteria. When the lasers excite the porphyrins, the porphyrins damage the bacteria wall, effectively killing the bacteria. However, consensus amongst researchers is that results are temporary since colonies of acne bacteria grow back quickly. Results are also incomplete, since lasers alone usually do not completely clear acne.

Accutane – It’s very simple: Accutane stops oil glands from making oil, and if oil glands don’t make oil, you can’t have acne. However, like any other potent drug, there are severe side effects that must also be taken into consideration. Probably the most widely known side effect of Accutane treatment is the effect it has on a developing fetus. Accutane must never be used while pregnant and even one dose of the drug while pregnant can cause severe birth defects. Women of childbearing potential must therefore submit to regular pregnancy tests are required to use two forms of birth control, both before, during, and for one month after treatment. The other most publicized side effect of the drug is depression and suicide. Even though medical studies concerning this issue were inconclusive, anybody that is a candidate for Accutane and has a history of depression or is taking medicine for depression should consult with the physician who is treating that depression.

How Long Does it Take Before I See Results?

How long does a new skincare regimen to work? The short answer is we are talking about weeks not days. This is a perfect example of when patience is a virtue; this is a process of evolution not revolution. If you are not realistic in your expectations you are just going to go from product to product. How many of us are guilty of tossing or returning a product after three days just because you did not see the results that you wanted?

When you are using a new regimen, it has to take at least a week to see any meaningful results, even with the best products. There are a lot of very good products out there, but there are no miracle products.

Most dermatologists recommend sticking to a regimen for 4 to 8 weeks before making changes to the treatment. It is very important to be aware of this time frame so that you do not become discouraged and discontinue the regimen. Conversely, if you see no change whatsoever after two months, you might want to check with your dermatologist regarding alternative therapies to treat acne.

Sources:

“The role of follicular hyperkeratinization in acne” Journal of Dermatological Treatment. http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/095466300750163645?journalCode=jdt

“The Response of Skin Disease to Stress” Journal of Dermatology. http://archderm.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=479409

“How to wash acne-prone skin” Acne.org.  http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/acne_prone_wash.html

“What is Acne?” American Academy of Dermatology.  http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/acne.html

“Benzoyl peroxide: a review of its current use in the treatment of acne vulgaris” Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19761357

“Disorders of the sebaceous glands”  Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology

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Are You Still Counting Calories to Lose Weight? If You Are, You’re Probably Doing it Wrong.

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What is a calorie?

Now, before you open up a new tab on your browser and start typing into Google: “what is a calorie?”, just off the top of your head, can you explain to me what a calorie is?

Technically, a calorie is a unit that is used to measure energy. A Calorie (kcal) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. In the past, to determine how much nutritional calories a particular food had, it was placed in bomb calorimeter— an apparatus with a sealed container surrounded by water— and then ignited and completely burned until almost nothing was left.  The resulting rise in water temperature from the incineration was measured and thus determined how much “energy” the food had. This how we know that one gram of carbohydrates or protein contains 4 calories and one gram of fat contains 9.

But doesn’t this make you wonder what the connection is between the amount of heat released when a food is literally burned to how a human body digests it and uses it for energy? Well, it’s a complicated question. The problem with this outdated calorie-measuring system is that it doesn’t take into account the vast amount of science and research we’ve accumulated regarding human metabolism. Incinerating foods to measure energy output was a good start, but in the 21st century, this is an unbelievably archaic and outdated way to accurately measure calories. Incineration, of course, does not equal human digestion. Would eating a fireplace log give you as much energy as burning it in a fireplace? No way.

The main reason why our body cannot derive as much energy from a piece of bark compared to, say, a piece of fruit, is because our bodies are not capable of breaking it down for energy. And if we cannot break it down properly, it passes through our body and never enters our bloodstream. So it’s not so much what you put in your mouth that matters; it’s what makes it to your bloodstream.

Different calories = different outcomes

Let’s say three females of the same race, age, and body composition each consume 2,000 calories daily for 30 days. Subject 1 consumes nothing but table sugar, subject 2 consumes nothing but lean chicken breast, and subject 3 consumes nothing but mayonnaise (2,000 calories is just 19.4 tablespoons, if you’d care to indulge).

Will the body composition outcomes be the same?

Of course not. The hormonal responses to carbohydrates (CHO), protein, and fat are different. There is no shortage of clinical studies that prove that calories from beef do not equal calories from vodka.

Protein, for example, provokes a greater thermic effect of food than either carbohydrate or fat. This means that while your body is digesting protein, a higher percentage of protein calories are “lost” as heat vs. carbohydrates or fat. This has led some scientists to suggest that the 4 calories per gram assumed for protein should be downgraded 20% to 3.2 calories per gram. In addition, protein increases satiety (the feeling of fullness) to a greater extent than fat or protein. So if you’re not feeling hungry, you’re less likely to snack on unhealthy treats and therefore facilitate a lower overall caloric intake.

However, I’m not advocating for an Atkins-style diet. Most people assume that an Atkins diet means eat-all-the-meat-and-fat-I-want while avoiding pasta and bread. This is truly unhealthy. Sure, you might lose a few pounds, but that high protein and fat diet will have other consequences down the road, like high cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.

The key to losing weight is not losing weight, its keeping it off

The hardest part of any diet is compliance. So if you make unsustainable ultimatums in your diet like “1200 calories per day” or “no ice cream,” you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Moderation and portion control is key, not so much what fad diet you decide to choose. Making small changes in your diet is the best way to make long lasting changes.

For more information, check out Good Calories, Bad Calories & The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman.

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The GAY (MAN)ual – 100 Things Every Man Should Know #3

The Difference Between Being Fashionable and Having Good Style

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“Wearing clothes is a necessity in life, so why not do it well?” –Yourlovelyman

There’s a distinction between learning about style and learning about fashion. Style gives you the possibility to define your own version of “cool” while fashion simply follows trends set by others. Fashion is always changing. Style does not. Fashion is overtly materialistic, with unnecessary items tagged with useless hype and overpriced into oblivion. Fashion is, essentially, a business. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to create an artificial demand for novelty and innovation. Style, on the other hand, can happen at a thrift store or in a bargain bin.

For the most part, style pervades our life, not fashion. The guy interviewing you for your job doesn’t care if your suit is Brooks Brothers or not. But he’ll notice if it doesn’t fit right. Your boyfriend’s parents don’t care what kind of seam your jeans have. But they’ll notice if you’re dressed like a slob. You need to look your best when the moment calls for it.

People are strongly influenced about how we feel and believe about a person based on how they look. Almost from the moment of birth, each of us is judged—silently, unconsciously, and nearly instantly—on the basis of our height (or lack of it), our weight and bulk, the shape and symmetry of our facial features, the length and style of our hair, our mode of dress, our grooming—everything that goes into the mix of qualities known as “physical attractiveness.” This physical attractiveness phenomenon has been studied in depth for decades by social scientists of many disciplines, including psychologists, sociologists, biologists, and anthropologists and their collective conclusion is that what you look like—or more important, how others perceive you— can drastically shape your life, for better or for worse. But for this specific post, I’ll be focusing more on this topic from a sartorial perspective and less of an academic one.

Here are some things I’ve thought about concerning the clothes we wear:

Clothes should make you look good. Or at least make you think that you look good. I read on a blog some time ago that said something along the lines of: “Fashion is vanity; it’s a non-functional adornment of the body,” but that’s not really true. It is functional. You don’t dress nice just for the sake of dressing nice. Some say they do, but I think there’s an ulterior motive. I think we dress nice to increase our chances of getting “lucky.”

INTERESTING SCIENCE FACT: Studies have shown that women unconsciously dress more provocatively, in more revealing clothes and wear more jewelry when they’re ovulating.

Think about it from another perspective: Would you walk up to a guy or girl in bar (or anywhere, really) who is dressed horribly and try to strike up a conversation with him or her? Highly unlikely. Without exchanging a single word between each other, you’ll assume, based solely on what he’s wearing, that he’s probably unhygienic, socially awkward or inept, and just plain creepy. You can deny it now but think about it the next time you’re in such a situation. That’s the power of clothes.

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This is the same person, taken about two years apart. Which would you befriend?

The wearer’s personality should be apparent. Don’t copy each look (on a mannequin or in a magazine) piece by piece. Being stylish requires some degree of confidence, whether it be on how your clothes match or how well they fit. But if you or someone just reproduces a whole look from head to toe, you’re just agreeing with what someone else has suggested you wear.

There is an intrinsic appeal and virtue in quality itself. If someone takes care to produce what they produce, in any walk of life, then even if it comes out a bit wrong, or it’s not for you, you may still appreciate it and attribute value to it accordingly.

Men look good in tailored clothing. It can absolutely flatter a man’s natural physique if done properly. It can also lo terrible if done badly, and in general, American men don’t dress well in formal clothing. See the British or the Italians for better examples of how to do it.

There is no such thing as overpriced. The idea that something is overpriced means that the item you want to buy is priced at a level that is over what you are willing to pay. If everyone felt that the item is priced too high, no one will buy the item and the store will go out of business. Basic economics will tell you that you and your friends will each feel that different items should be priced at various levels (this is called your personal price point). If you feel that an item that costs $2 is a good deal, your friend might feel that it is “overpriced”. However, since we’ve just determined that you are willing to buy the item, the item is not “overpriced” — it merely “doesn’t meet your friend’s price point”. Same goes for stores. A store cannot be “overpriced.” If you ever say “Oh man, this store is so overpriced, let’s get out of here!” we can no longer be friends.

But T-shirts that cost $200 are probably always overpriced. My justification for spending a lot of money on particular clothes is that it’s just what you have to pay to get exactly the thing that you want. Menswear, in particular, is all about details. So anyone can get a shirt, or a cotton shirt, or a slim fitting cotton shirt and so on, but what if you want one that has a particular detail on it that appeals to you, like, high arm holes and very slightly flared cuffs. It’s probably not worth $200 to get those details, but if that’s what you want and there’re no alternatives, what are you going to do?

A guy in fashion forum once posted this:

“The jacket that I got recently is made out of old tracksuits, re-cut and then garment dyed and washed. The result is, from a distance, not entirely dissimilar to any other double breasted jacket. But there aren’t any other double breasted jackets that are made like that, or indeed that look or feel like that up close. Is it worth what I paid for it in terms of quality, materials, construction. probably not. But when I saw it, it appealed to me, and I knew that I couldn’t get it anywhere else. So to me, that makes it worth it. Clothes are just boring otherwise.”

And finally,

Personal style is not something you can develop by lurking and looking at pictures of strangers on the internet. Clothes are meant to be worn, and when you put something on that is essentially you it feels right on some subconscious level. And, with the proliferation of fast fashion outlets that allow you to experience a wide variety of aesthetics at a relatively low price, it’s never been easier to buy a bunch of random shit and see what actually works for you.

Sources:

“Changes in Women’s Choice of Dress Across the Ovulatory Cycle: Naturalistic and Laboratory Task-Based Evidence” http://business.utsa.edu/faculty/kdurante/files/6ChangesinDress.pdf

Gueguen, Nicolas. “Makeup and Menstrual Cycle: Near Ovulation, Women Use More Cosmetics”. The Psychological Record, Vol. 62, No. 3. 2012

Photos: GQ, r/malefashionadvice

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Move Over Cupid, Proximity is the New Matchmaker

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When I’m not near the one I love, I love the one I’m near.

—E. Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow

Proximity and Repeated Exposure

We never really think about it, but is it really surprising that students who take the same courses, sit next to each other in class, or live side by side in dorm rooms tend to develop closer friendships than those who don’t? Sales people in large department stores form closer friendships and ties with those who work alongside them in the same department than with people who work just several yards away in another area.

Are humans just natural love-magnets that attract people who are physically close to us? Or, is there some other explanation for the strong positive effect of proximity? One of the most interesting explanations was offered by researcher Robert Zajonc, who viewed the positive effect of physical proximity as the result of “repeated exposure.” Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to clothing choices, foods, music, and people.

People Don’t Like What’s Not Familiar to Them

Humans have an inborn discomfort to people and environments that are not familiar to them. On top this, we are socialized from a very young age to avoid unfamiliar things and people. Do you recall your mom telling you, “don’t touch that, you don’t know where its been” or “don’t talk to strangers”? And even as adults, it’s very unlikely that we would respond positively to a stranger, even though this fear is completely irrational. How would you feel if a guy randomly approached you on the street and told you that he would like to get acquainted with you? Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us.

…But They Like What’s Familiar To Them

But what if we have seen this same stranger every time you went shopping at the supermarket or on the bus on your way to school – would you react differently? More likely than not, you would. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, and it puts us at ease. This occurs even when we are not consciously aware that we were exposed to a particular person. In a study that demonstrated this, subjects were asked to talk about some neutral topic with two people who were confederates of the experimenter. Before the conversation, a photograph of one of the confederates was flashed on a screen so quickly that the subjects were unaware of it. Despite their lack of awareness of this subliminal exposure, the subjects still responded more favorably toward the familiar person than they did toward the person whose photograph was not flashed.

In another experiment, men and women who did not know each other were asked to look in each other’s eyes for 2 minutes (a long time when you look into the eyes of someone you do not know). The result was that both the men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the person with whom they locked eyes. Of course, this is not practical in a real life situation. Saying to someone, “let’s look into each other’s eyes for two minutes” would likely be perceived as bizarre rather than romantic.

Repeated Exposure Intensifies All Feelings, Positive and Negative

So let’s say there’s a guy at work you don’t like or you don’t get along with. Should you spend more time with him or ask him to lock eyes with you for two minutes? NOOOOO.

When someone annoys us, repeated exposure, rather than making us like that person more, will intensify our negative feelings. This explains why police records show that most acts of violence do not happen between strangers, but between people who are close, such as husband and wife, family members, friends, and neighbors. In other words, repeated exposure intensifies the dominant emotion in the relationship. When the dominant emotion is anger, repeated exposure enhances the anger.

Suggestions for People Seeking Love

Try to arrange your life in a way that allows you to have many opportunities to meet people you want to engage in a friendship or relationship with regularly through your workplace, residence, or recreational activity. An opportunity to meet and get acquainted is almost a prerequisite for the development of a romantic relationship. But, meeting once is not enough. Don’t count on “love at first sight” because that rarely happens. Repeated exposure is much more powerful and reliable than waiting for someone to pop up out of the blue and confess their love to you.

But keep in mind, meeting repeatedly does not guarantee love. Just as much as repeated exposure can increase positive feelings of you in someone, a negative impression can be exacerbated by repeated exposure as well. If the first impression is negative, it is best to cut contact, let the first impression dissipate, and then give the relationship another chance. In such a case, repeated exposure will not change the initial dislike or disdain into love but will most likely increase them.

Sources:

Kellerman, J., Lewis, J., & Lard, J. D. (1989). Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love. Journal of Research in Personality.

White, G. L. & Shapiro, D. (1989). Don’t I know you? Antecedents and social consequences of perceived similarity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bornstein, R. F., Leone, D. R., & Galley, D. J. (1987). The generalizability of subliminal mere exposure effects: Influence of stimuli perceived without awareness on social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pierce, C. A., Byrne, D., & Aguinis, H. (1996). Attraction in organizations: A model of workplace romance. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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Book Recommendation #3

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

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Finally, A Book on Love That Isn’t Self-Help, Sappy or Full of Stereotypes!

No one likes to admit they read self-help books. I sure don’t. And since I’m a guy, I’m even more reluctant to pick up a book concerning love. But what’s great about this book is its overarching academic tone that makes it much more accessible without feeling that guilt or shame of being a hopeless romantic looking to books for advice.

Have you ever been rejected by someone you really loved? Have you ever had to reject someone that really loved you? Very few escape it all-encompassing wrath. The book describes the experience of being in love akin to a mental illness – obsessive thoughts, erratic mood swings, weird impulses, delusions, the inability to concentrate – and I absolutely agree with his analysis. The  roller coaster ride of ecstasy and despair, rapture and grief encapsulates my experiences with my ex to an uncanny degree. Why do we fall in love? What is love for? Do all cultures see love the same way? If you want to know the answers to these questions, I highly recommend reading this book. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to know how to fall in love or how to deal with people who are in love, you should look elsewhere. If you’re looking for answers to those kinds of questions, you won’t find them here.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this book is its last chapter. Psychiatrically speaking, love and its symptoms can be objectively classified as a mental illness. And while many authors tend to embrace a patronizing stance on the matter and prescribe their own “cure” for the “problem,” this kind of pejorative interpretation reflects nothing more than our own socially constructed attitudes. This author instead embraces love as a mental illness wholeheartedly as part of the human condition.  Our extraordinary susceptibility to love suggests that it is somehow an adaptive trait. The author maintains that love, even if it’s categorized in modern times as a mental illness, it is an evolutionary advantage.

Reviews

“Very good book. I can very much recommend this to two groups in particular; Those who love psychology and those in unrequited love. It will be of great interest to one and of great inspiration to the other.” – Graham

“This is a very well-written, thorough exploration of how romantic love has been experienced and regarded throughout history in different cultures. Drawing on an impressive store of knowledge of history, literature and psychology, the author makes a very persuasive case that romantic love is an evolutionary adaptation to encourage pair-bonding of sufficient length for the male of the species to participate in protecting and providing for offspring…” -INTJ

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Love is a Mental Illness – Part 3: Why Love is Necessary For Human Survival

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Left To Their Own Accord, The Human Race Would Cease To Exist

When humans gained their prefrontal cortex, it was a tremendous boon for the human species. The ability to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, future consequences of current activities, working towards a defined goal, predicting outcomes, and the ability to control urges, are all moderated by the amazing prefrontal cortex.

But this was a problem for nature and the future of the human species. If humans were always in a rational state of mind and had the ability to easily overcome emotions or urges, no one would want to have babies. Think about it: Raising children is a huge drain on our individual resources. Not just time and money, but our mental and emotional resources too. Not only do we have to feed this baby, clothe it, and provide shelter for it, when it reaches the age of twelve, they start hating you for no apparent reason. They start demanding that you buy them clothes with esoteric logos that makes them “unique.” They think they know everything and can live independently on their own. They talk, yell, and scream back at you. And when they’re finally 18, you have to refinance your mortgage because your kid is compelled to go to this place called college, which is essentially a 4-year-long party for most kids who attend. Who, in their rational mind, would want to put up with that?

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If we could take the essence of nature, or evolution – I’m using both terms synonymously – and give it a voice we could understand, we would probably hear it saying “OH F*CK” when it realized people wouldn’t want to procreate anymore after doing a rational cost-benefit analysis. What essentially gave humans the ultimate edge in the world would simultaneously lead to their demise if nothing was done about it.

A serious problem, if evolution’s goal was to have organisms procreate into perpetuity successfully. They needed to break the humans’ rationality; not disassemble it completely, because that would be a waste of many millions of years of evolutionary work, but just enough so the species can reproduce without thinking so much about the burden of parenthood. What nature ingeniously came up with was temporary insanity, or what we would nowadays call it: Love.

Once someone becomes enraptured by love, they are no longer the calculating, rational being we once were. They are overcome by madness, thinking about this one person day and night; when they wake up in the morning, as they brush their teeth, as they work, as they eat dinner, as they fall asleep. They shower this one person with gifts. Even the most linguistically and culturally challenged person is able to sudden gain the ability to sing and write poems for this person. In the throes of love and passion, they dismiss the use of contraception even after years of being taught about its importance. Love is an obsession. Love is expensive. Love is time-consuming. Love is wasteful. Love is irrational. But love is necessary.

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Love is nature’s way getting what it wants: progeny. It inflicts us with temporary insanity, not enough to incapacitate us completely, but just enough to have us mate, procreate, and continue the human race. The conflict between intellect and evolutionary objectives does not arise in animals because they simply follow instinct. When it comes to sexual reproduction, they become automata – females go into heat, they release pheromones, the males go crazy for them, they mate, and the species continues. And to a large extent, this is what happens to us too. But the fact that we can self-reflect and rebel has necessitated the evolution of a safety mechanism. This safety mechanism throws reason and rationality out the window and enslaves us, albeit temporarily, to our primitive mating instincts. This is love. It is a drive created by evolution to ensure the continuation of our species. 

Love is not merely an unstable state of mind, it is a drive – perhaps even more powerful than the sex drive. If you ask someone to go to bed with you, and they say “no thank you,” you certainly don’t kill yourself or slip into a clinical depression. But around the world, people who are rejected in love will kill for it. People live for love, they kill for love, and they certainly die for love.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

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Love is Priceless, But It’s Not Cheap, Either

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Pick Up Your Kids on Time, Please

Let’s say you run a daycare center and you wanted to reduce the amount of parents who pick up their children late. What would you do? Credit card companies impose late fees when we don’t pay by a certain due date, libraries impose fines on overdue books, so would imposing a fine on parents picking up their children late be an effective deterrent? Sounds reasonable right?

Wrong. In fact, there was a daycare that actually implemented this and it had long-term negative consequences.

Why? That’s because we live simultaneously in two different worlds— one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms dictate the rules. Social norms are those friendly requests that people make to one another. You ask your neighbor: Would you mind walking my dog next weekend while I’m on my business trip? Or you ask a friend who lives nearby: Can you help me change my flat tire? For things like these, instant payback is not necessary but keeps a door open for future reciprocity.

On the other hand, we also have a world governed by market norms, which is very different. These are things like wages, prices, rents, interest, and costs-and-benefits. When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for—nothing more, nothing less.

Before the fine was introduced, the teachers and parents had a social contract, with social norms about being late. Thus, if parents were late, they felt guilty about it—and their guilt compelled them to be more prompt in picking up their kids in the future.

But once the fine was imposed, the daycare center had inadvertently replaced the social norms with market norms. Now that the parents were paying for their tardiness, they interpreted the situation in terms of market norms. In other words, since they were being fined, they could decide for themselves whether to be late or not, and they frequently chose to be late. Needless to say, this was not what the daycare center intended.

A few weeks later after realizing that the fine didn’t work in reducing tardy parents, the daycare removed the fine. What do you think happened to the behavior of those parents? Did they go back to social norms as well and start feeling guilty? Nope. Even though the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change and continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, there was an increase in the number of tardy pickups since now both the social norms and the fine had been removed.

The Cost of Sex and Love

When we keep social norms and market norms on their separate paths, life runs pretty smoothly. Let’s take sex, for instance. We can have it for free in the social context, where it is warm and emotionally nourishing. But there’s also a market for sex, sex that is on demand and that costs money. As long as we keep these two realms separate, there shouldn’t be any problems. We shouldn’t expect to charge a boyfriend or girlfriend $50 each time they want sex, nor should we expect prostitutes to provide us with everlasting love. Makes sense. But when social and market norms collide, all hell breaks loose.

Let’s say a guy takes a girl out for dinner and a movie, and he pays for everything. They go out again, and he pays the bills once more. They go out a third time, and he’s still springing for the meal and the entertainment. At this point, he’s hoping for at least a passionate kiss at the front door. His wallet is getting perilously thin, but worse is what’s going on in his head: he’s having trouble reconciling the social norm (courtship) with the market norm (money for sex). On the fourth date he casually mentions how much this “romance” is costing him. Bzzzzzzt! Now he’s crossed the line. She calls him cheap and storms off. He should have known that one can’t mix social and market norms—especially in this case—without implying that the she is a tramp. (This is just one hypothetical scenario, though. I would never condone dating someone who doesn’t at least offer to pay their share after the second date.) 

The point is that introducing market norms into social exchanges, violates the social norms (whatever they may be) and hurts the relationships. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is close to impossible. If you’ve ever offered a potential romantic partner the chance to cut to the chase, split the cost of the courting process, and simply go to bed, the odds are that you will have wrecked the romance forever.  

What Should I Do When Social Norms Aren’t Clear?

If you’ve learned anything from the past two examples, you know that the last thing you want to do is make your date into a market transaction. But what about in situations like gay dating when social norms aren’t clear? Who pays for dinner? The entertainment? There are, in fact, many norms to choose from: Should you follow the old-fashioned way of courtship and have the more masculine guy pay for both people? (WTF, are you serious?) Should the guy who asks the other to go out treat him? Should one guy pay more often if he is making more money? Should they split the bill equally each time? What do you choose? 

My advice: go read Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions if you’re still unsure.

Sources:

Predictably Irrational

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Love is a Mental Illness: Part 2 – An Evolutionary Adaptation

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What is Love? vs. What is Love for?

Let’s take a brief look at Darwin’s theory of evolution. His theory suggests that traits and characteristics that arise from random genetic mutations are passed on from one generation to the next if these traits are advantageous to the survival of the species. In competitive environments, those who are better equipped to survive are more likely to produce offspring. Thus, beneficial traits will gradually appear with greater frequency, while useless or redundant traits will gradually diminish and eventually disappear. Memory, language, emotion and consciousness all serve some sort of function, resulting from the many millions of years of natural selection. All of these traits had to have some sort of beneficial advantage over those who did not possess these abilities or traits. The psychological state of mind that we call love should also, therefore, serve some kind of function to make us more adaptive.

Men and women are fundamentally different from one another. But please, before you whip out that feminist cudgel and start beating me with it, keep in mind that I’m speaking strictly in the sense of biological reproduction, not social roles in society. The optimal strategy for reproductive success is not the same for men as it is for women and so, some conflict of interest is inevitable. A male can increase his chances of reproductive success by simply having more sex and impregnating more women. A women’s reproductive success, on the other hand, is severely limited by biological factors. She has a very limited number of eggs compared to the amount of sperm men produce, and she cannot carry more than one fetus in the womb at a time (usually). In a hunter-gatherer society that humans lived in for most of their existence, resources were ridiculously scarce. Since women were going to be nearly incapacitated when she is carrying for a child, both in the womb and several years afterwards, she needed to be picky and choose that one mate that would give her the best odds of delivering and nurturing a healthy offspring.

Although, it may seem like men are less inclined to be faithful than females, the human race has evolved such that both males and females have to expend a great deal of energy on their young in order for them to survive. A pattern of promiscuous couplings and swift departures would have translated into less reproductive success for human males. Genes that produced promiscuous behavior would be strongly associated with infant mortality, which would translate into fewer offspring, and effectively diminishing them from the gene pool. In contrast, monogamous pairs that direct and expend their energy into one mate and one offspring have a higher likelihood of raising their vulnerable offspring into sexual maturity. Thus, natural selection has shaped us into a predominately monogamous species.

Love Helps Our Species Survive

Love organizes our behavior in such a way that compliments monogamous pairings, which, as mentioned before, increases the likelihood of reproductive success. One of the most prominent symptoms of people who are in love is obsession. The most obvious similarity between someone with OCD and people who have fallen in love is their inability to govern the contents of their own mind. Thoughts and images of loved ones enter our awareness and cannot be dismissed. Lovers ruminate, worrying excessively about the relationship not ‘working out,‘ or read into every little detail of their partner for hints of infidelity to the point of paranoia. But how is this adaptive?

We tend to view obsession in modern times as problematic and disruptive, it is actually an evolutionary advantage. Obsession works so that we do not easily forget our mate and makes us focus our energy and resources on that one person. Resource allocation is vital to both parties and if the male cannot remember which woman is carrying their progeny, well, he has other problems. But the bottom line is that if he cannot focus his energy on one mate and spreads his resources thin, the chances of him having a successful offspring are greatly reduced.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

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The GAY (MAN)ual – 100 Things Every Man Should Know #2

Alcohol – How It Works 

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“I drink to make other people more interesting.”
—Ernest Hemingway

What We Were Taught In School

Most of were taught in middle or high school that alcohol is a depressant (hopefully from a health class and not firsthand experience). Classic symptoms of drunkenness like slurred speech, impaired coordination, and diminished cognitive ability buttress that claim. And at very high doses, alcohol is lethal because it depresses nerve functioning in the brain stem to the point where your breathing stops.

What They Didn’t Teach Us (But Know From Experience)

But now that we’re older and have had the chance to experience the effects of alcohol firsthand, this simple statement doesn’t make much sense. If alcohol really was simply a depressant, everyone at a bar or club drinking would look and act like zombies – moving slowly, bumping into each other, and talking incoherently. Oh wait, that happens too. But more often than not, intoxication from alcohol evokes boisterousness, talkativeness, aggression, ribaldry, and other behaviors that are more typical of a stimulant than a depressant. The standard explanation for these effects is that alcohol depresses the “higher” cognitive abilities, such as the ability to control emotions, thus allowing our more unruly, carnal sides to emerge, and while this explanation contains a grain of truth, it undoubtedly misses the mark on what is truly occurring inside your body. In reality, alcohol is not a depressant with apparent stimulating attributes – it directly stimulates the brain and exerts a host of complicated effects, which we’ll talk about below.

The Missing Lecture in Our High School Biology Class

How does alcohol, or more specifically, ethanol, produces both stimulating and depressing effects? The answer lies in ethanol’s molecular structure.

Ethanol-3D-vdW

Ethanol is a wondrous molecule. Its molecular structure makes it both water and fat soluble, allowing it barrage your body from multiple points. Because it dissolves easily in water, it is rapidly absorbed from the digestive tract and mixes easily with blood. Because it also dissolves in fats, it freely passes through the cell membrane’s phospholipid bilayer, which is practically a double-walled bubble of fat, and disrupts the glutamate receptors of neuronal cells. These two features are the key in understanding how and why we become intoxicated.

It’s true that alcohol—especially at moderate to high doses—can act as a general anesthetic, depressing a broad range of central nervous system functions. But alcohol also mimics the effects of cocaine, amphetamine, and opium. Like these stimulants, the ethanol molecule directly stimulates certain brain cells which causes the brain to release more dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with wide range of effects (but most notably associated with pleasure in the pleasure/reward circuit of the brain), and causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise.

At low doses, it increases electrical activity in the same brain systems affected by these classic stimulants and can lead to feelings of pleasure and euphoria because it releases our internal stores of the morphine-like compounds called endorphins. These neurochemicals work in conjunction with the brain’s core pleasure circuits, giving alcohol its addictive potential.

Interestingly enough, alcohol also works on exactly the same brain circuits targeted by Valium; the calming, anxiety-easing effects of alcohol closely resemble those exerted by this famous tranquilizer, which is why alcohol is sometimes described as a social lubricant.

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But as you drink more and more and your body becomes inundated with alcohol, the ethanol molecules that escape destruction in your liver rush up to the brain through your blood stream. There, they bind to glutamate receptors and dampen glutamate’s capability to “fire” messages normally. This is the primary reason why you become “dumber” and “slower”. By inhibiting the brain’s ability to send messages from one neuron to another, alcohol effectively slows down activity in many parts of the brain. If the neurons in the affected areas control muscles, the inhibition can lead to relaxation and impaired coordination. If the neurons control speech, words slur and become increasingly imprecise. If the neurons control automatic bodily functions, heart rate and breathing are impaired. Studies have found that after consumption of two drinks in the space of one hour, glutamate receptor function can be reduced by more than 80 percent.

In Summary

Substances such as cocaine and LSD work like pharmacological scalpels, altering the functioning of only one or a handful of brain circuits. Alcohol is more like a pharmacological hand grenade, affecting practically everything around it. This broad scope, in fact, sets alcohol apart from many other drugs. It’s a stimulating, depressing, and mood-altering drug that is a far more complex and interesting drug than most people give it credit for.

Sources:

Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used & Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy

Images: hxxp://69.89.31.69/~shorblue/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/homerla1.jpg, hxxp://www.letsgettwisted.net/margaritamachines.html, hxxp://themythicalbeast.redinsect.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/frat1.jpg

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Does Flattery Work? How About Insincere Flattery?

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You have an amazing fashion sense. Those clothes you’re wearing today — they look great!  Seriously!

Of course, you don’t believe me. But chances are, on an unconscious level you do believe me, and my compliment makes you feel warm and gooey inside, enough to predispose you to do something nice for me. Muwahahaha

Usually, when a friend gives you a compliment, you feel flattered because you take it as a sincere compliment. That’s because friends don’t usually have an ulterior motive to make you like them any more than they should. But what if a salesman at CarMax or the hairstylist at your salon gives you a compliment? Normally, your BS meter should go off, discounting that compliment because you realize that they both have a financial motive to flatter you and keep you as a customer. But this is all happening on a conscious level. What is going on at the unconsciously? How are your behaviors affected by these efforts to flatter you?

The distinction between conscious thoughts and unconscious feelings is crucial. We can hold opposite conscious and unconscious views of the same subject at the same time, as we all know, but what most people aren’t aware of is that our unconscious ideas and feelings have a tremendous reign over our behavior, much more than we give it credit for.

Jaideep Sengupta, along with Elaine Chan, both professors of marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, examined how flattery affects our decision-making. In their study, participants were shown a flyer complimenting them for being stylish and chic and were asked to imagine that it had come from a clothing store. The participants knew perfectly well the compliment wasn’t aimed specifically at them, and their ulterior motive was plain — the leaflet contained a message asking them to shop at their store. There was nothing subtle about the attempt to flatter — its obviousness was “over the top”.

On a conscious level, the participants discounted the value of the compliment because of its impersonal nature and the ulterior motive. However, their results suggest that even after discounting, the initial positive reaction to the flattering message does not get wiped out; instead, it coexists with the discounted evaluation. When participants were given a choice, they were more likely to choose a coupon from a store that had complimented them than from one that hadn’t. So even though they were consciously aware of the fact that they we re being flattered insincerely, they still chose the store that complimented them. This may seem weird, but to me, this makes sense. Human beings are social creatures and we are driven to pursue validation. Even if the validation is blatantly insincere, I still think many, if not most, people would prefer that over no recognition at all. Chan and Sengupta’s findings suggest that flattery has an insidious ability to pierce through the conscious mind and into the unconscious, where it creates persistent feelings that could affect the outcomes of all kinds of activities.

Two things to take away from this post:

Flattery, even insincere flattery, works. Also, stay as far far away from marketers and people with MBA’s. They know too much…

Source: “Insincere Flattery Actually Works: A Dual Attitudes Perspective” Journal of Marketing Research (2010).

http://www.bm.ust.hk/~mark/staff/Jaideep/Jaideep%20JMR-Feb%202010.pdf

Image: Wesley Bedrosian for The Boston Globe

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