• Dr Jack offers a little more neuro-informed date training

    MTV is the last place you’d expect to find a neuroscientist, right? Wrong! Tonight (Wed 16th Nov 2011) at 8pm GMT I make my second appearance on MTV’s Plain Jane. Yes, I know, it’s a makeover show. You may well be of the opinion that I should choose the series I contribute to better. And you might be right. However, in my defence I would say that, as my aim is to make neuroscience interesting and accessible to the widest possible audience, contributing to such a show allows me to reach people that are wholly unlikely to tune into anything vaguely scientific whether on the BBC, Channel 4, Sky or Discovery.  So I saw Plain Jane as an opportunity to raise the profile of neuroscience in the minds of a new audience and to offer my knowledge of dating behaviour that increases the chances of getting the brain of a young lady’s romantic target into the state we know as love.

    Tonight’s candidate, Jamie from Chicago, is a lovely girl with a big crush on a young man by the name of Adam. She lacks nothing but a bit of self-confidence and few fashion tips from Louise. As part of the preparation for her big date in Lake Como (lucky girl) we met in Spitalfield’s Market one windy Sunday last summer in trendy London’s favourite shopping/nightspot – Shoreditch.

    I set her the rather unusual challenge of offering unsuspecting passers by a hand massage to give her the opportunity to practice some flirting tactics. Sounds a bit odd admittedly but my thinking was this. Number 1: if she was physically holding onto them then they couldn’t get away until she was done with them. Number 2: physical contact between two humans causes the release of oxytocin in the brain.

    If you’re trying to get someone to fall in love with you oxytocin-release is what you’re after. It is a vital neurohormone for creating a social bond between two humans as it makes a person feel safe, happy and secure. There are many things you can do to increase release of oxytocin in a person brain: offer words of support when a person is scared or vulnerable, do someone a favour in their time of need – pretty much any altruistic gesture of support will do it. But physical contact is certainly one of the most potent ways to achieve this goal when standing in the middle of a pedestrianised shopping precinct.

    The other tip was to avoid typical topics of conversation that flit into a person’s head when they haven’t really thought about it: like what a person does for a living, what they had for breakfast etc. Of course, the aim of effective flirting is to excite the date not bore them to death.

    On the whole people love nothing more than to hear the sound of their own voice; ideally talking about themselves. So I encouraged her to give them ample opportunity to do so by steering them onto subject matters that are likely to boost their self-esteem. Using a simple mnemonic technique using the Palm of the hand, Thumb and Forefinger I suggested that she try and steer them into topics involving their Passions, Talents and Fantasies. That way the brain areas involved in creating feelings of excitement and pleasure should be maximally stimulated. The idea is to forge subconscious associations between being in your presence and positive emotional states to make them want more of the same.

    I have no idea whether she employed any of that advice in her luxurious date on the banks of Lake Como. Regardless, my main aim was that these neuro-informed brain tips would help viewers find romance in their real lives and realise that knowing how the brain works can be both interesting and come in useful from time to time. The very artificial and impersonal set up Jamie had to endure was always going to make her job of kindling love under the bright lights and watchful eye of cameras very difficult. My fingers are crossed that, despite the tough circumstances, she manages to get her guy tonight at 8pm GMT on MTV.

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