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Life Sciences & Society Program

2017 Schedule

The Science of Love

13th Annual Life Sciences & Society Program Symposium
October 6-7 and 13, 2017
Monsanto Auditorium, Bond Life Sciences Center

We often think of love in terms of romance, partnership and building a family. But the emotional connections people foster for parents, partners, children and friends differ wildly.
The Science of Love aims to explore how these emotions develop and change. While much “love” serves to promote survival and reproduction, how does this feeling extend to kindness for strangers, friends, pets and the natural world? What is the neurobiology behind these emotions, and how does culture affect the different flavors of love that binds us to others?
Join us to explore these topics to find the root of our love at the The 13th Annual LSSP Symposium, Science of Love.

Register for LSSP 2017
The Science of Love


Friday, October 6th, 2017

Time Event
7 p.m.

The drive to love, who we choose and the future of relationships in our digital age

Helen Fisher, Rutgers University
Is technology changing love?  Is monogamy natural?  Why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?  And how can you use neuroscience to keep love alive?  Anthropologist and neuroscientist Dr. Helen Fisher uses her brain scanning work (fMRI) to discuss three brain systems that evolved for mating and reproduction–the sex drive, romantic love, and attachment—as she explores the biological underpinnings of romantic rejection, love addiction, adultery and divorce.  She maintains that our mating instincts will not alter due to Internet dating—but the Internet is changing how we court and who we choose.  Hooking up?  Friends with Benefits?  Polyamory?  Fisher then uses her data on 35,000 single Americans to explain modern dating tactics, and the newest trend in courtship, “slow love.”  She discusses four broad, evolved styles of thinking and behaving that draw us naturally toward one partner rather than another.  Last, she discusses the brain circuitry of long-term romantic happiness and explains how to use neuroscience to keep love alive.

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Time Event
9 a.m.

The Neurobiology of Pair Bonding in Monogamous Prairie Voles

Larry J. YoungEmory University

Socially monogamous prairie vole has provided an extraordinary opportunity to explore the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying complex social behaviors, including pair bonding. Oxytocin receptor (OXTR) signaling in the brain’s reward centers is critical for pair bond formation. Diversity in expression patterns of OXTR in the brain contribute to diversity in social behaviors across and within species. In prairie voles, oxytocin links the neural encoding of the social signature of the partner with the rewarding aspects of mating through interactions with dopamine and by coordinating communication across a neural network linking social information with reward. Genetic polymorphisms robustly predict natural variation in OXTR expression in the striatum, which predict pair bonding behavior and resilience to neonatal social neglect. We have also explored the capacity of prairie vole to display empathy-like behavior, specifically consoling. Prairie voles increase their partner-directed grooming toward mates that have experienced stressor. This consoling response is abolished blocking OXTR in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in human empathy. Finally, loss of a bonded partner results in the development of depressive-like “grieving” behavior, which is alleviated by oxytocin replacement. I will present data suggesting that similar mechanisms are involved in romantic love in humans.

10 a.m.

Morning Break & Book Signing

10:30 a.m.

Survival of the Friendliest: evolving to love strangers

Brian Hare, Duke University

Survival and reproduction are the only winning evolutionary outcome.  When competing over scarce resources it is easy to imagine that only selfish behaviors are going to bring success.  Yet animals often help each other. How can the kindness we observe pay evolutionary dividends? Do these behaviors just appear selfless or are they really motivated by self-regard? I will share work exploring the cooperative behavior of bonobos and chimpanzees that shows how friendliness wins and challenges our ideas about the origins of human kindness. I will also explain our work on dog psychology that has provided new insight into how our remarkable relationship began.  We will consider how a feared predator could evolve into our best friends.  In the process we will discover exactly what makes human love unique and how our unique emotional response to others makes us both the kindest and cruelest species on the planet.

11:45 a.m.

Lunch & Book Signing

1 p.m.

The Importance of Being Prosocial

Kory FloydUniversity of Arizona

This presentation explains the connection between interpersonal communication and the health of individuals and relationships. Dr. Kory Floyd of the University of Arizona has spent nearly two decades exploring how prosocial communication, such as the expression of affection, benefits physical and mental health and the stability of close relationships. He will describe how positive, intimate communication contributes to personal and interpersonal wellness and how individuals can use this information to maximize well-being in their own lives and relationships.

Floyd observes that sharing affection in close relationships carries significant risks, prompting the question of why humans share affection in the first place. In response, he advances the argument that affection is a fundamental human need, one that is intricately tied to survival in early life and to fulfillment in adulthood.

If that argument is true, Floyd contends that it is reasonable to expect affectionate behavior to be associated with identifiable benefits for relationships, for mental wellness, and for physical health. To address these, he describes research conducted over 20 years to examine how affectionate communication matters for close relationships, how it covaries with mental health, and how it is associated with stress management, immunocompetence, and other indices of physical well-being.

2 p.m.

Well-Being and Marital Functioning of African American Couples

Chalandra BryantThe University of Georgia

One cannot understand the marital experiences of others without also understanding the context (social and interpersonal circumstances) in which those experiences are embedded. Although race-comparative studies help us identify issues that warrant exploration in greater depth for any given racial or ethnic group, such analyses can be dangerous because they run the risk of pathologizing certain groups or characterizing certain groups as unfit or subpar. This may occur if context is misunderstood or ignored.  During this presentation, a conceptual framework depicting factors associated with marital outcomes of African Americans will be discussed. The framework underscores the complexity of intrapersonal, interpersonal, familial, community, and environmental factors affecting African American couples. This framework is particularly significant because it incorporates race-specific factors. Various topics including Body Mass Index (BMI), blended families (specifically stepfathers), genes, and racial discrimination, as well as aspects of mental and physical well-being will be addressed.  All of these topics will be tied to marital quality and marital interactions.

3:30 pm

The All-Or-Nothing Marriage

Eli J. Finkel, Northwestern University

Historical shifts in the institution of marriage in America have produced two major consequences. First, the quality of average marriages has weakened over time. Second, the quality of the best marriages has strengthened over time. In tandem, these two consequences have pushed marriage toward an all-or-nothing state. This presentation introduces a theoretical framework for understanding such temporal effects, along with science-based analysis of how individuals can strengthen their own marriages.

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Time Event
7 p.m.

Love Wins

Jim Obergefell

Jim Obergefell is the named plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. His talk will focus on his 2016 book Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, the “fascinating and very moving story of the lovers, lawyers, judges and activists behind the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that led to one of the most important, national civil rights victories in decades—the legalization of same-sex marriage.” The New York Times also made a short film about Mr. Obergefell and the Supreme Court case.