Companies offered bouquets of pickles and salami for Valentine’s Day 2020. Traditional bouquets of flowers may have to make room in the modern world for edible arrangements. The idea of romance is heavily linked to oxytocin produced in the brain.
Edible floral arrangements have been around for many years, but this Valentine’s Day, food makers have taken another step outside the box to offer visually appealing bouquets of various foods. Hickory Farms is responsible for the salami bouquet, while Grillo’s Pickles lays claim to a bouquet of pickles that resembles an exotic flower arrangement. Boston Market even offered a baby back ribs bouquet this year to celebrate the love-centered holiday.
Some people will inevitably find these arrangements to be silly while others may consider them viable alternatives to the same old chocolates and flowers of yesteryear. Either way, maintaining a happy relationship involves good habits, selflessness, and more than a little neuroscience.
Activating the Amygdala
Nobody likes being on the receiving end of their partner rolling their eyes during an argument, so it’s a habit worth breaking. In fact, when you roll your eyes at someone during an argument, it doesn’t just ruffle their feathers—it causes a quantifiable reaction in their brain.
“When you do an eye roll during an argument, or something similar, it impacts the brain of your partner in some consistent and negative ways,” Dr. Peter M. Vishton, Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of William & Mary, said. “Your partner’s amygdala, for instance, will become more active. As it does, the negative emotions that are associated with that subcortical brain region will emerge, making the rest of the argument that much more difficult.”
This isn’t just one neurological way of looking at arguments; it’s an important factor in your relationships with others.
“Long-term love and attachment are associated with oxytocin, a hormone produced by your brain that promotes deep social attachments,” Dr. Vishton said. “The amygdala activity and the associated fight or flight type of response weaken those bonds. Maintaining a relationship—staying in love—is in many ways a competition between these two different systems. If you too frequently tip the scales in the favor of that amygdala system, love will lose.”
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Oxytocin
Measuring oxytocin levels has led to surprising results in scientific studies.
“In studies of how oxytocin relates to human behavior, including romantic behavior, researchers often take a blood sample and test for the density of oxytocin,” Dr. Vishton said. “The more oxytocin in the blood stream in general, the more oxytocin is present in the brain as well. You won’t be surprised to hear that when people are involved in a new, romantic relationship, they tend to produce higher levels of oxytocin. What is surprising is just how much.
“The enormous spike in levels is almost twice as large as that observed in new mothers.”
Dr. Vishton also said that oxytocin can influence our behavior in several ways—and not just in positive ways.
“It can also strengthen memory for negative events and even increase aggressive responses to anyone who’s not perceived as a member of the same family or social groups,” he said. “Examples of this can be seen among couples who find themselves in a toxic divorce type of situation. The same oxytocin that caused the love can contribute to its destruction.”
Whether buying a pickle bouquet or staying respectful even during a heated argument, there are many ways to activate the oxytocin in your partner’s brain. Just make sure it’s for the better.
Dr. Peter M. Vishton contributed to this article. Dr. Vishton is Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University.