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April 14, 2024

SciTech Talk: Science behind heartbreak, sex and chocolate

By MICHAEL YAMAKAWA | February 14, 2013

Valentines Day gone wrong: Heartbreak sucks. The night your significant other shuts the door behind her, tote in hand, your feelings are tangled up in moments of angst, disappointment and sadness as you wrestle around in your bed, praying for the day to be a dream. But it’s not. And the next day proves to be another blow to your heart, as you find her shopping nonchalantly at Char Mar with her friends. All this confusion and the messy mixture of emotions mask what’s really going on in your body.

You experience knots in your stomach from the image of her secretly walking with another man, migraines from reliving the long moments of staring at the shut door behind her and baggy eyes from subsequent, late-night weeping. It turns out that these physical manifestations of heartbreak aren’t something you can just shrug off, as they’re evolutionary traits passed down by our ancestors.

It’s not to say that cavemen experienced the drama that teenagers like us are deeply involved in today. Instead of fighting with feelings, they probably battled saber tooth tigers and mammoths. During high stress situations like a break-up, the body’s nervous system undergoes what’s known as the “fight or flight” response, which is largely characterized by increased heart rate, pupil dilation, and the adrenaline rush you feel when you run into your ex in the dorm halls. Some other symptoms include cramping, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, all of which have been experienced by recently heartbroken men and women. Yes, break-ups can get a little messier than you think.


More attractive, more sex?: A recent publication by Notre Dame humorously titled, “Handsome Wants as Handsome Does,” tackled the question of whether being attractive rewards a person with more sexual partners. Certainly, a few simple observations on a college campus could lead one to believe that there is an existing connection. However, contrary to what many might believe, research has shown that attractive women tend to have fewer sexual partners than less attractive women. Men, on the other hand, have sex with more people if they are more attractive. Here’s another surprise: thinner women have reported fewer sexual partners.

While the reasons behind this are still unclear, the lead author of the study, Elizabeth McClintock, believes that mate matching involves consideration of the implicit assets of each partner — including attractiveness, money and power. For example, a person’s level of attractiveness can be overlooked for money, something all of us have watched on celebrity news. These qualities can also be traded in for the extent of commitment towards the other, as well as the progression of sex. In fact, the study reported that very attractive females did not have sex within the first week of dating. Presumably, these women were able to exert control over the relationships through the use of their attractiveness.

While this study included more than 14,000 individuals, it’s important to remember that love is not that predictable, and you can have some pleasant surprises coming your way in the future!


Advice for future Nobel Laureates at Hopkins: If you think you might have a chance of winning the Nobel Prize, and are praying for that one inevitable factor of luck that goes into the decision-making, you should stop wasting time and eat chocolate instead. Upon hearing this, you may give an incredulous expression and immediately doubt the validity of this advice. However, Scientific American published a study in November that reported a clear correlation between a country’s chocolate consumption and the amount of Nobel Laureates it produces. And for those who are still a little suspicious and are demanding some evidence, there is indeed a scientific explanation for this.

Of course, a prerequisite for winning the prestigious prize is being intelligent. It turns out that certain organic compounds found in chocolate, like flavanols, affect cognitive function. This effectively brings chocolate into the equation, but what’s left is figuring out the consumption levels of different countries and their respective number of laureates. In Switzerland, home of the famous Swiss chocolate, consumers eat almost 12 kilograms of the sweet per year, while people in China eat less than one kilogram. Their number of laureates is around 32 and zero, respectively. Similar observations are seen in the other 20 countries that were studied.

While this is not the best ingredient to prepare you for an organic chemistry exam, it is certainly exciting to know that the chocolate you will be eating on Valentines Day may eventually win you a Nobel Prize.

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