Monthly Archives: January 2010

Ignite Austin #1: Oxytocin, U Luv it, I know u do.

January 13th was the first every Ignite Austin.  I was lucky enough to be invited to give my talk to 400 super rad and active Austinites.  From IgniteAustin.org:

Ignite events are talks given in five minutes, 20 slides. What would you say? At Ignite Austin, 16 artists, technologists, thinkers, and personalities will take the stage to answer this challenge. The goal is to spark new conversations and collaborations across cultures and disciplines throughout the city of Austin with fast-paced, bite-sized presentations. It’s a great opportunity to meet smart, interesting people (if we do say so ourselves) and maybe even learn something.
 Though my original submission to Ignite Austin was on Clean Driving and modifications that the City of Austin could make to improve and green their traffic design, I didn’t have time to prepare that particular talk.  Instead, I decided to give  my talk on oxytocin, a hormone I have been researching for the last five years.  I currently have one book chapter in the Endocrinology of Social Relationships edited by Gray and Ellison. 
Follows are several photos from the event and my talk in online version.   If you are passionate about something, and you want others to learn about it too, submit a talk for the next Ignite Austin.  It’s a blast!  Photos from John Knox, Eugene Hsu, and video from Greg Ackerman.  Thanks to Chris Lamprecht for proofing my talk. 

Video of the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znExUWZClh4


Ignite Austin started with a Paper Airplane contest.  Winner received a pass to SXSW 2010 Interactive. Photo by John Knox.

And some planes were more agile than others.  This one did a 90 degree turn.  Photo by John Knox

This is John’s first attempt at HDR photography.  The subject of the photo?  Trey Ratcliff, a well-known HDR photography guru.  Isn’t it ironic? Photo by John Knox

The talk is starting. Photo by John Knox

Aw…. isn’t that puppy in the back cute? Photo by Eugene Hsu.

People making paper whales for Lisa Maxwell’s talk.  Paper whales rule. Photo by John Knox

Joshua and Whurly are happy.  I’m happy.  Photo by Eugene Hsu.

Getting my oxytocin from @windaddict. Photo by Eugene Hsu.
The talk starts now……the text for each slide is underneath it. I have added extra comments and information that were not in the talk.  You might notice that there are less than 20 slides.  Some slides were repeated.

I have a confession…. I’m an oxytocin junkie, and maybe after the next five minutes, you will be one too.  I said Oxytocin, NOT Oxycontin.  

Now we’re all going to have a little oxytocin. When the next photo shows up, every go aw…… Did you get the warm fuzzies?  If you did, enjoy your oxytocin. If you didn’t, you’re a cold hearted monster. 

During labor, oxytocin causes the uterus to contract and shrink thus aiding the birthing process. Oxytocin is released during breast feeding, and nipple stimulation increase oxytocin release thus facilitating milk let down.

Oxytocin has an amnesic effect, especially in stressful situations.  It suppresses memories of those painful moments; this is most advantageous during childbirth.  In mice that were injected with oxytocin (into the brain), they don’t remember bad experiences.  You can shock them all day long, and they don’t remember a thing. 

Oxytocin is also critical for social recognition.  For strains of mice that do not have oxytocin receptor sites (called oxytocin knock-outs), they also seem to not recognize each other.  It is as if after my five minutes, you still won’t recognize me. For those of you who have had too many drinks or have been spending the last minute playing with your iphones and blackberries, you might not recognize me for a different reason.

Several studies have shown that warm physical contact, like hugs, can increase oxytocin when going into a stressful situation.  Prior to a stressful event, hugs seemed to increase oxytocin levels as well as decrease cortisol levels. In studies with humans and animals, it has been found that physical contact can increase oxytocin levels in both species.  This is evidence that animal assisted therapy is not only mentally and emotionally healthful, but also physically helpful.

In an economics game based on trust, researchers found that players with higher levels of oxytocin tended to trust and reciprocate more.  Some companies quickly jumped at the chance to manufacture oxytocin. 

“Liquid Trust” is supposed to be sprayed on your body so that other people will start to trust you.  Oxytocin cannot cross the blood brain barrier, and it is in no way detected by the olfactory system or the Jacobson’s organ (VMO).  This product is a fraud, however, I do have small vial that you’re welcome to try. The second product is oxytocin tablets.  However, it will never make it past your stomach acids and into your bloodstream. Let’s move onto how you can release oxytocin on your own. 

Relationships are a great source of oxytocin release.  We’ll go through a several ways of releasing oxytocin in a variety of relationships including pair bonding or romantic relationships, relationships with friends, bonding with children, and in business relationships.

One of the easiest ways to facilitate oxytocin release is with a hug.  Hugs are not only free, they are also environmentally friendly, legal, calorie free, and you get a dopamine bonus. 

One way to encourage bonding is mutual self- disclosure.  You trust each other more, you release oxytocin, and you bond.  You can also talk about and think about past bonding moments you’ve had.  Studies have also shown that just thinking about a bonding moment can release oxytocin. 


Now if those methods don’t work, you can also go to the old fashion methods.  Nipple stimulation.  That’s right, just start titillating those nipples to get the oxytocin going.  And there’s also orgasm.  To go into that will surely put me over the 5 minute time limit, so we’ll save that for another day.

Bonding and oxytocin release don’t just happen in real life with warm physical contact, it can also be released when people receive social support.  My study found that women who received social support from their partners tended to release oxytocin and became less stressed.   Social support, even online, from a variety of sources like Twitter, Facebook, or support groups can facilitate oxytocin release.  I frequently ask for it online.  Just search for how many times I use the word “luv.”

It shouldn’t surprise you that I’m a big proponent in nurturing business relationships.  You know the saying, it’s not always about what you know, but who you know, and hope that they like you.  Relationships are an integral part of business.    Here’s an example of my dog using oxytocin to generate some cash flow.

This is my dog. His name is Mouse.  He is an oxytocin machine, and the best marketing tool.  He has made up to $175 in two hours just laying on the ground looking.  There’s only one job I can think of making that much money by laying around, and it isn’t legal. 


When giving children cart rides not only does Mouse make everyone fall in love with him, I have the children hold the donation jar. As we circle around, people instantly start snapping photos and feel compelled to fork over the cash. As we end the ride, I take a photo with a Polaroid and hand it to the parent. If you’re at all familiar with exchange theory, you’ll know what’s coming next.  When asked how much the ride costs, I say, “It’s free, we do it for luv,” and out comes the wallet.  Thank you very much. Hope you get some tonight. Oxytocin that is.
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During my talk, someone wasn’t listening, and she tweeted this.  It was brought to whurley’s attention. He had no choice but to show the world this epic tweet.  That’s right. If she learned nothing from the other 17 Ignite Austin talks, at least she learned what is most important in life.  

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Filed under Eugene Hsu, Ignite Austin, John Knox, Lisa Maxwell, nipples, orgasms, Oxytocin, Pheonix, Trey Ratcliff

Up, Up, and Away!

Sunday, Dec. 20th was my first hot air balloon ride with Austin Aeronauts. While it might not be as thrilling as a skydive, my first flight with Austin Aeronauts was fun and exciting in its own way.  The morning started early, as in 6:30 am early.  The reason they start early is because winds tend to pick up over the course of the day, and it really isn’t a good idea to take first time passengers up if the winds are more than nine miles per hour. 
The course of the hot air balloon is entirely up to Mother Nature.  At different altitudes, the wind blows in different directions.  To tell where the wind was going, a helium balloon was released into the air prior to take off. The pilot, David Smuck, and retriever, Chuck, watched the direction of the helium balloon as it floated through different altitudes.  A hot air balloon team consists of at least two people, a pilot and a retriever (not Golden, German Short hair, or Labrador).  The pilot navigates the balloon by releasing air or turning on the flame for more more hot air.  The pilot is responsible for finding a good landing spot for the balloon as well as landing it safely.  The retriever drives to the landing location to pick up the balloon and passengers.  Sometimes it isn’t easy as good landing spots aren’t always easily accessible to a truck towing a trailer.  Good landing spots aren’t always easy to find as there are many parameters.  Dry, flat land sans large rocks or livestock is ideal.  Private property is sometimes the only option for landing, and if so, they tend to look for property that isn’t gated or locked. 

Sunday morning was freezing.  Check out the frost. 

The balloon is first filled with cold air with a high powered fan.  Other passengers are helping by holding the balloon.  The volume of this particular hot air balloon filled is about the size of 60 school buses at 100 ft long and 100 ft in diameter.  This aircraft can hold up to 1500 lbs.  

David, the pilot at the top of the balloon during inflation.

A look into the inflating balloon through the envelope on top. 

The flame throwers.  These make shooting flames into the balloon.

We’re just now starting to float.

The Dell Diamond.

The other balloon.  You can see the shadow of the balloon I was riding in on the other balloon.

We flew over someone’s very dirty pool.  Here’s a photo of the reflection of our balloon in the pool.

Reflection of the balloon in David’s sunglasses.

Cattle grazing.

Shadow of the balloon.

Spooked cows.  When the cow on the left first saw us, it literally freaked out.  It startled violently, stared at us with wide eyes, and froze.  Poor cow.  I thought it was going to have a heart attack.  When humans first see the balloon, they usually run inside to fetch a camera.  Dogs occasionally bark at us. 

After flying for about 90 minutes (~26 miles), we found a good spot to land.  The landing spot was only 3 miles away from the take off locations, and it was a grassy flat area on a public road near some homes.  David begins our descent by turning off the burners and pulling on the red cord to let some hot air out. 

There are no photos of landing because it can be kind of bumpy.  The basket can tilt, and you can get thrown out.  Lucky me got to be the pilot once we landed.  David, the pilot, hopped out of the basket while I got to pull the cord to let out the rest of the hot air. It wasn’t an easy task.  Talk about some rope burn.

Collecting the deflated balloon. 

David and the other passengers squishing the air out of the ballon. 

The balloon is partially rolled up, then rolled into a bag. 

David, another passenger, and I sitting on the balloon to get the air out.

Chuck, our retriever, laying on the balloon to get the rest of the air out. 

Post-flight, everyone gets a glass of champagne as part of tradition. The legend is that the very first hot air balloon was mistaken for a fire-y beast of sorts, and attacked by people on the ground.  People just weren’t used to seeing large objects in the sky with fire in 1783.  The champagne tradition was developed as a way for the hot air balloon passengers to signal to people on the ground that they were indeed humans; after all, who doesn’t recognize a champagne bottle.

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