True love? No age limit on egomania

Q. How early in life can a person fall in "real love"? Certainly by age 18 many of us have been truly smitten. What about age 13? Thirteen-year-old Juliet fell head-over-heels for Romeo. How about a 10-year-old, or even younger? ­J.L. Lewis

 A. Falling in love can occur as early as the capacity to step outside of one's own sense of self and attach to another person or image of that person, says California State University-Los Angeles psychologist Stuart Fischoff.

Probably a first-grader, around age six, can love someone, so long as the child has moved away from being totally ego-centric. But there is no age limit on being ego-centric. So, people who are adults may be unable to really fall in love because they can't get out of their own need system– seeing a love object as something that can give to them but not something that they want to give to.

Six-year-old love may look like puppy love, but it's the real deal, Fischoff stresses. Many people confuse lust with love and can't imagine that a six- or 10-year-old can love. "They can, even if it doesn't last a long time. Love at any age can arrive and depart in short order because it's not love that makes long-term relationships, it's liking."


Q. What are the weirdest sounds people commonly make in everyday conversation? ­G. Bush

 A. Probably laughter. When psychologists Jo-Anne

Bachorowski of Vanderbilt and Michael J. Owren of Cornell studied young adults watching funny videos, they discovered that voiced laughter is not a vowellike tee-hee, ha-ha or ho-ho but a more neutral huh-huh. Grunts and snorts occur too, especially for men, and can be quite high-pitched– above a soprano's high C for males, an octave higher for females. Very high-pitched wheezing whistles are surprisingly common, possibly as air emerges from the larynx like steam from a tea kettle.

University of Maryland neuroscientist Robert Provine, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, adds that some 80 percent of laughter has nothing to do with humor, instead punctuating statements like "Can I join you?" or "Are you sure?" Weirder still, by one tally speakers laugh 46 percent more than listeners in most social situations. Seriously.


Q. If genes are supposed to come 50-50 from both parents, why do some of us seem so strongly to take after Mom or Dad? ­T. Corbett

 A. It's true Mendelian inheritance is basically symmetrical, but don't forget about "sex-linked" genes, on the X chromosome, says University of Wisconsin-Madison medical geneticist Carter Denniston. Females have two X's and males only one. All of a son's X-linked genes come from Mom, whereas a daughter's X-linked genes come equally from both parents. "So that's one possible source of asymmetry."

Also, some genes mask the effect of others, by "dominating" over them, such as certain eye colors or hair colors typically prevailing over others, instead of the two colors being averaged.

But more generally, says Denniston, the human traits that are most interesting to us are influenced by many genes and environmental factors acting together, presenting a very complex form of inheritance. Intelligence, height, personality, temperament, and mental disease are just a few of these. Here it is often the case that a child is not a simple average of his or her parents.

For these, probably the simplest source of asymmetry to understand is just plain chance: For example, you may happen to receive a group of genes that act together to promote musical talent. It was the luck of the draw. If Mom has more musical talent than Dad, you will resemble Mom in that respect. "Remember, if you flip a fair coin 50 times you expect to get EXACTLY 25 heads and 25 tails only about 11 percent of the time! For the rest, the result is not exactly symmetrical, and can be quite far from 50-50."

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