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Why ‘care’ and the ‘scare’ are inseparable when you love someone

The affiliative brain

It is the brain structures that enable mothers to care for their offspring.

  • Mammalian mothering is underpinned by the oxytocin-amygdala-dopamine triangle. The oxytocin-producing hypothalamus is at the top for sociality, and the two arms are 'scare' and 'bliss.'
  • The oxytocin-amygdala 'line' makes a mother extremely attuned to signs of infant safety and danger.
  • The role of the oxytocin-dopamine 'line' is to bond the mother to her baby so she can tolerate sleepless nights, physical pain, and endless chaos.
  • The oxytocin-primed hypothalamus sends another projection to the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the brain's dopamine factory, and the striatum, where dopamine receptors abound, to make the infant the most rewarding stimulus for its mother.

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Why ‘care’ and the ‘scare’ are inseparable when you love someone

Why ‘care’ and the ‘scare’ are inseparable when you love someone

https://aeon.co/essays/why-care-and-the-scare-are-inseparable-when-you-love-someone

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Key Ideas

Love sets the stage

When a loving mother holds the newborn baby in her arms for the first time, she intuitively knows to care for the child. A relationship is formed, a bond created. The child will emerge in abilities, babbling, creating imaginary scenarios, the capacity to collaborate, feel pain, understand emotions, discuss differing positions, argue convictions, until the child grows up and can meet the mother in an adult relationship of empathy, intimacy, and perspective-taking.

The mother-infant dance will shape the child's affiliative bonds throughout life.

The neurobiology of bonding

The neurobiology of affiliation is the new scientific field that describes the neural, endocrine, and behavioral systems sustaining our capacity to love. There are three factors in the neurobiology of bonding:

  • Oxytocin that drives both care and prejudice
  • The affiliative brain
  • Synchrony.

Oxytocin and attachment

Oxytocin - a large molecule produced by neurons in the hypothalamus - is known for coordinating bonding, sociality, and group living. Oxytocin targets mainly the amygdala, a center for fear and vigilance, the hippocampus, and the striatum, a locus of motivation and reward.

Oxytocin is released through the central part of the neuron as well as its extensions, called dendrites. The dendrites increase oxytocin release whenever attachment memories are used and prime us for a lifetime. Early attachment memories help us move without fear. It imprints the infant's brain with distinct social patterns.

Oxytocin integrally involved

Oxytocin pair bonds, group sharing, and consoling behavior, and is also very sensitive to danger. It protects against threats based on the nuances of social behavior. Oxytocin activates the alarm systems of the fight-or-flight response.

The same oxytocin that supports love and kindness, also underlies prejudice, parochialism, and out-group derogation.

The affiliative brain

It is the brain structures that enable mothers to care for their offspring.

  • Mammalian mothering is underpinned by the oxytocin-amygdala-dopamine triangle. The oxytocin-producing hypothalamus is at the top for sociality, and the two arms are 'scare' and 'bliss.'
  • The oxytocin-amygdala 'line' makes a mother extremely attuned to signs of infant safety and danger.
  • The role of the oxytocin-dopamine 'line' is to bond the mother to her baby so she can tolerate sleepless nights, physical pain, and endless chaos.
  • The oxytocin-primed hypothalamus sends another projection to the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the brain's dopamine factory, and the striatum, where dopamine receptors abound, to make the infant the most rewarding stimulus for its mother.

The neural network is insufficient

The neural network is not enough to transmit the knowledge, linguistic competencies, social cognition, executive functions, and mental abstractions we obtained. Humans have additional higher-order systems that enable planning, resonance, and the ability to communicate and share effect.

  • The empathy network enables parents to feel the infant's pain.
  • Through the embodied simulation network, the parents represent the infant's motions and emotions in their own brain.
  • The mentalizing network allows parents to reflect and give meaning to the infant's nonverbal signals.
  • The emotion-regulation network helps parents multitask, set long-term goals, and plan their parenting according to their culture.

Synchrony is not a system

It is a process and it describes the coordinated action in the service of the group’s survival and resilience. Social cohesion makes ants so resilient. By coordinating behavior, the strength of the group is far greater than its individual members.

  • Humans departed to some extent from this coordinated rhythmic submission. We continue to instill energy and purpose during work, dance, and cultural rituals. But coordinated action through the synchrony of the crowd also propels us to derogate, fight, and kill.
  • Humans have a unique ability to synchronize via the coordination of facial signals without physical touch. Partners synchronize their gaze, smile, or emotional expression that leads to cooperation.
  • Face-to-face synchrony requires intimacy and intent, reflection and awareness, and necessitates effort.

A solution to the human condition

Human love can react automatically to the smallest sign of danger and cause endless cycles of aggression and destruction. There are three types of solutions based on the work of great thinkers. Each saw fear and cruelty under pressure and the destruction brought by war.

  • The 'face' (Levinas) solution: Face-to-face interactions echo the other's emotions and create empathy.
  • The 'light' (Freud) solution: The triumph to the human spirit is the belief that the 'light of knowledge' can overcome the nastiness of our nature.
  • The 'humor' (Kundera) solution: While the truth is solemn, humor is suggestive, nonsensical, and unnerving. It is a fine panacea to the pompous 'together we stand.' Practice a good laugh.

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