Once you understand the science behind how your brain is working when you feel emotions such as love, lust, attraction, and repulsion, how can that information help you master relationships — in the bedroom, and in the boardroom?
That’s just one of the questions we asked research scientist Andrea Kuszewski (pictured here) to shed some light on. Scroll down for our Q&A.
Be Inkandescent: When it comes to managing your relationships well at work, what are the three most important things to think about regarding the science of sex?
Andrea Kuszewski: Here are my top three.
- If you are trying to motivate someone to change their behavior, don’t focus so much on pleasure and what people like. Instead, think about the anticipation of pleasure as a reward. So if you can find a way to create anticipation, then motivation will increase. It is the carrot to the stick. You don’t want to make it too easy for someone — even yourself — to get what they want. Create a little bit of a challenge to attain what you want. It’s not manipulation as much as it is the way our brain is set up to learn and respond.
- When it comes to relationships — romantic and professional ones — if you want to be happy and successful, you need to be honest about what you prefer. A lot of people may assume they should want stability and say, “I am looking for a nice guy or a nice girl.” But if you really are drawn to novelty, and you are a thrillseeking kind of person, then you can have a partner or friend who is nice — but what will really make you happy is being with someone who lives on the edge a bit. And remember, boring doesn’t always mean nice, and bad doesn’t always mean exciting, even though those traditional associations can hold true.
- Similarly, if you want to keep other people — a lover or colleague, or even a boss — interested and tuned in, you have to be interesting yourself. So if growth in your job is your goal, be sure to excite people a bit. Add a bit of novelty and unpredictability to what you do on the job.
Be Inkandescent: So the key to being successful in our love lives, and at work, is to harness the power of two neurotransmitters — dopamine and oxytocin?
Andrea Kuszewski: Yes. Driving up anticipation as much as possible is one of the best ways to keep motivation and satisfaction high because you are constantly going toward something. It also ties in with how we learn and how we are driven to complete goals. So, the best thing to do is to set goals that are challenging yet achievable. That will result in the highest level of dopamine possible. Once you do achieve that goal, you experience the satisfaction of feeling good about yourself and accomplishing something. You are actually more compelled to set another goal and jump right into the next challenge. So the key to high success is to constantly be setting new goals for yourself. This keeps achievement, motivation, and pleasure high.
Be Inkandescent: Are we just slaves to our neurotransmitters?
Andrea Kuszewski: In a way we are. But knowing what they can do, we can kind of “hack” it for our own personal purposes. We can harness that energy; I do this all the time. Right now I am working in my home office so I have a lot of freedom, but not a whole lot of structure. In order for me to stay motivated and keep performing at a high level, without any of the traditional structures in place that I’d typically have in a workplace, I have to create them for myself. So if something good happens — say that I find out that something I wrote is going to get published — I will not permit myself to feel or think about it, much less celebrate it, until after I have completed whatever difficult task I am working on. I will purposely hold back so the anticipation builds. I purposely set it up so that there is this little bit of tension.
Be Inkandescent: That makes me think of the part of your research that you call a “neurological orgasm.” Tell us about that.
Andrea Kuszewski: This relates directly what I was talking about regarding dopamine and oxytocin. Basically, not every orgasm or pleasure response is the same. Chemically it is, but the amount of time spent and the levels of neurotransmitters being released are all based on the situation. If you know that the anticipation of something makes it more exciting, it triggers more dopamine. If we can draw out the anticipation for as long as possible before we allow ourselves to reach orgasms, physically and emotionally, we get that hit of oxytocin and are actually going to have a stronger response. There won’t necessarily be more oxytocin released, but the bond will be stronger because of that long, drawn-out pleasure response.
Be Inkandescent: Is this true when it comes to physical pleasure, as well?
Andrea Kuszewski: Everyone has had good and bad sex. If an orgasm happened in 30 seconds, maybe the sex was good for that 30 seconds, and maybe you had an orgasm … but you can probably look back at other times where it felt different. Most likely, a lot more dopamine was involved in those other times because the anticipation of climax was greater. Even though physically you still had the orgasm in the first instance, the second will be more enjoyable because of all the elements involved. The longer you can prolong that release of dopamine, the greater the pleasure response will be.
Be Inkandescent: Is it true that dopamine is primarily responsible for motivation?
Andrea Kuszewski: There have been a lot of studies to suggest that. Researchers studying the amount of dopamine in the brain had people engage in some sort of stimulus — doing something that they liked — and every time they preformed a simple task they got a reward, such as an M&M. Right before they get the reward, they anticipated that they were going to get it, so there was a spike of dopamine. If you repeat this 20-50 times in a row knowing you are going to get that reward, the dopamine will steadily dwindle because now you know the reward is coming and it starts to get kind of boring. So with another group, researchers gave the test subjects the reward only half of the time, and they didn’t know when they were going to get it. If you are dong something difficult and you get a reward every time, you would think that it would be pretty motivating and that you would keep doing it. But if you’re doing a difficult task and you may or may not get a reward this time, but at some point you will get a reward, would you think that dopamine would spike higher or lower? Most people would think lower, but it is actually higher.
Be Inkandescent: A boss could use that to his or her advantage with employees.
Andrea Kuszewski: Absolutely. Create some perks or incentives, but be sure there is a bit of a challenge involved. It’s the basic idea behind Christmas and birthday presents: You know that you are going to get something because it’s a holiday, but you don’t know what it is. When there’s an aspect that’s somewhat secret, it is more exciting because you don’t know what is coming.
Be Inkandescent: Now for our last question. Since we have a networking site, “www.InkandescentNetworking.com,” and espouse the power of connecting, we were fascinated by your research about the fact that networking makes you smarter. Talk a little bit more about that phenomenon.
Andrea Kuszewski: Networking is one of the five principles I have came up with that increase intelligence and cognitive ability. It’s not that networking alone will make you smarter, per se. It’s more that we learn best when we teach other people. So if we want to learn something just for our own good, we will likely learn it if we are interested in it. But if you have to teach it to other people, you will actually learn it better. When you explain something to other people, you are looking at it through different angles, and you think of examples. Plus, any time you get feedback on something or engage in a conversation about something, or talk about your field of expertise, those are all conditions for cognitive growth. By networking with other people, you are allowing those things to happen all at once over a prolonged period of time. So that makes you smarter.
Don’t stop here! Listen to our podcast interview with Andrea Kuszewski on the Inkandescent Radio Network.
And learn even more about Kuszewski at www.andreakuszewski.com.