Transcript for Love 2.0 - Barbara Fredrickson

Jim Fleming: So romance is about encounters, about desire, about seduction and sometimes about sex.  Romance is also about love.  Oh, we love romantic love, but do we know what it is?  Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson says it's time to redefine that funny little thing called love.


Barbara Fredrickson: Love is that moment of connection that you feel when you look into someone's eyes, you're feeling the same way and you momentarily have a sense of mutual concern for one another.


Now, that's kind of a moment.  It can be between you and your soulmate or you and a complete stranger.  They're good for the body and they're good for our relationships.  They're sort of the building blocks of many other things.


Fleming: How do I know when one of these moments is happening?


Fredrickson: When you get the sense that you and another person are on the same page, or on the same wavelength, or are really connecting.  All emotions by definition are potent mind and body events, changing your biochemistry, changing your gestures, changing your neuro firings.  And when two people are experiencing this micro moment of connection, then there's something very interesting unfolding across two brains and bodies at once.


People's neuro firings become synchronized, their gestures become synchronized, their biochemical reactions become synchronized to the point where it becomes a real open question -- is this love happening for just one person or is it something that's happening across two brains and bodies at once.


Fleming: I mean I've had experiences like this, images in my mind of my grandson arriving at the house and throwing his arms wide.  And I can feel the whole world start to open up.


Fredrickson: Exactly.


Fleming: Is it also that same thing that's happening if I smile at a stranger on the street and they smile back?


Fredrickson: That's a milder version I would say, yeah, because a smile comes with a certain brain operation behind it.  And when you catch somebody else's smile you're mirroring not just what muscle movements are showing up on your face; there's a deeper mirroring going on where your brain activation is more similar to each other than it was a moment before that smile happened. 


So that smile on the street is a smaller, milder version of the connection you feel with your grandson when he runs towards you with a hug.


Fleming: Does it bother you at all to use the word “love” to cover all of these things?


Fredrickson: You know, it is difficult to take on a word like love because people have so many strong pre-existing views of it, hard won views you know, that come from personal experience and just absorbing our cultural messages as well.  So I see these micro moments of connection as being the real heart of a broader love system and they're the actionable pieces.  You can, you can actually decide I want to feel more connected with people today and make a change in how you interact with people and achieve that, whereas if you say well I want more love relationships today, that's gonna be tougher to act on.


Fleming: What you're talking about is an improved sense of positive relationship with people.  It's both bigger and smaller.


Fredrickson: Right, I agree.  It's bigger in terms of our potential to have some control about whether and when we feel these states, and it's smaller because it takes love off that pedestal of being high romance or only reserved for our loved ones, and it says no, actually love is something about how we connect with people, everybody.


But I don't think it's important that people use the l-word.  What I think is important is that we see these micro moments of positive connection as nourishment, you know, a way to connect, and a way to be giving, and a way to make ourselves and others healthier.


Fleming: I want to talk about those physical responses to love because it sounds as though you're saying we will be healthier with greater moments of happiness, of positive


Fredrickson: Of connection, positive connection with others.  We've known for decades that people who have experiences of more positive emotions and more social connections are healthier and live longer.  But one of the great mysteries has been how is it that those feelings get under the skin and literally make us healthier? 


Vagal tone is something that we've done quite a bit of quite a bit of research with.  And that is the tenth cranial nerve that connects your brain to your heart and other internal organs.  It's good for you to have high vagal tone.  And it signals flexibility and adaptability in how our body regulates internal biological systems and how our minds regulate attention and emotion.  It's really a good predictor of both psychological and physical health.  Improvements in vagal tone offers one window into understanding that mystery into seeing oh, this is how those feelings affect health over the long term.


And now my research team is actually looking at changes in gene expression in the immune system, seeing how your white blood cells change in step with experiencing greater frequency of micro moments of positive connection.


Fleming: The redefinition of love, you present it in some ways, bursts the popular myths about loves, that it is only between two people or that it's a lasting state.


Fredrickson: Right, right, and so we can see the importance in our cherished relationships of making sure we keep the gateways open to experiencing continued positive shared moments rather than just resting on our laurels and thinking you know, yeah, he told me he loved me 20 years ago, it still stands.  We need to rekindle these moments as often as we can to make our relationships stronger.


Fleming: You've done all of this research, now why is it do you think that we are so obsessed with the idea of love?


Fredrickson: You know, it's one of these really powerful psychological states that seems mysterious.  It feels like a lightning bolt coming down from the sky when you love at first site, or these really intense moments of love are certainly the most memorable, but it could be that they're not the most consequential in terms of our longevity and health.  The research has shown in the past that mild low intensity but frequent positive experiences are the ones that may be nourishing us the most on a day to day basis.


Fleming: That ‘s psychologist Barbara Fredrickson.  Her new book is called “Love 2.0”.

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