How often do I start a post by saying "Slate has this fascinating article..."? Well, there's no change in the routine today. Be warned, this time I'm taking on complicated (but really interesting) science content. It may not seem like hard science at first, but I promise you that it is. Science people, please do feel free correct anything you see amiss.
Slate does indeed have a great article about the famous Obama charm. Much has been made of the immense power he has over all types of people, and he's been called a thesaurus-full of words describing charisma. In this article Emily Yoffe explores the idea that Obama taps into a previously unrealized emotion called elevation. This emotion, to paraphrase deeply, causes people to feel uplifted, hopeful, and elated. It makes people feel connected to the object of their "elevation" and many people even feel "spreading warmth" their chests. In other words, you just can't seem to get enough of this person.
Doesn't this all sound kind of familiar? Wasn't there already an emotion like this? Wait, wait, it will come to me! Oh yes, I think that hopeful, elated, oooey gooey warm, connected feeling used to be called love! Yes love. Does this mean that people are in love with Obama? Millions of heterosexual male Obama fans might not like that idea very much. Perhaps it is too simplistic to say that people are in love with him. After all, there are many different kinds of love.
One of the studies mentioned in the article consisted of taking a large group of women with babies, and showing them a video. Half the women got to watch Obama, while the other half watched something else. Of those who watched Obama, a large portion suddenly felt the urge to nurse their babies. Why? The study's authors believe it's because the women experienced an increase in their oxytocin levels when they watched Obama speak.
Oxytocin is, of course, that chemical our brain produces when it want us to feel connected to someone be it a new baby, a new boyfriend, or even a president-elect. Perhaps it's not just that we love Obama, but that we have NEW love for him. You know this feeling. When our unconscious brain feels a need for a strong connection with another person, it feeds us large quantities of oxytocin (potent happy drugs) to make us seek out and maintain that relationship. Viola! Warm fuzzies whenever we see the object of our affection.
This all raises so many questions. The first has to be: why Obama? What is it about him that causes us to feel such "elevation" for him? Do our unconscious brains know something that we don't? Is he somehow gaming our natural systems to make us feel that he is deserving of an oxytocin benefit? Then there's the somewhat scary reality. Most of what I've read about the natural high of new love says that most humans have a "four year itch" where the happy drugs usually peter out.
If this is all true, what does this mean for Obama's chances for re-election in 2012? Perhaps, by that time, we will have learned to love him for himself alone. To ensure a successful re-election bid, maybe he should institute a policy of throwing his socks in the hamper, putting down the toilet seat, and being nice to our mothers.