How Elvis Presley Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

The non-rational interactions of art upon flesh prompt another study into Elvis Presley's music. Or so goes the headline. Reading through the test results, it seems that heavy metal has as stirring an effect as the Presley number. Except for that one woman whose hormone levels 'skyrocketed'. Nice to know the King's still got it.


The velvety voice of Elvis Presley still makes hearts flutter—and in a new study with people who have the rare genetic disorder Williams syndrome, one of the King's classics is among a group of songs that helped to cast light on part of the essence of being human: the mystery of emotion and human interaction.

In a study led by Julie R. Korenberg, Ph.D., M.D., University of Utah/USTAR professor, Circuits of the Brain and pediatrics, people with and without Williams syndrome (WS) listened to music in a trial to gauge emotional response through the release of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin (AVP), two hormones associated with emotion.

The study is the first to reveal new genes that control emotional responses and to show that AVP is involved in the response to music.

Williams syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of 25 to 28 genes on one copy of chromosome 7. Those with the disorder look at the world through a unique lens. They may view everyone as their friend, to the point of running up to total strangers and striking up conversations as though they are old acquaintances.

They have an affinity for music. But they also experience heightened anxiety, have an average IQ of 60, experience severe spatial-visual problems, and suffer from cardiovascular and other health issues.

Korenberg and colleagues from the U of U, University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Salk Institute, La Jolla, Calif., conducted a trial with 21 participants, 13 who have WS and a control group of eight people without the disorder.Because music is a known strong emotional stimulus, the researchers asked participants to listen to music.

Researchers asked the first participant to listen to the 1950s Elvis classic, "Love Me Tender." The woman showed no outward response to the song, which can be typical not only of people with WS but particularly of people without the disorder whose faces may be impassive but jump up at the end of an exciting piece, Korenberg points out.

many of them chose heavy metal

But, to elicit a greater response from the remaining test participants, the researchers invited them to bring their favorite music to listen to—and many of them chose heavy metal. Again, there was little outward response to the music.

But when the blood samples were analyzed, the researchers were happily surprised. The analyses showed that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both the oxytocin and AVP levels remained largely unchanged as they listened to music. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the woman who'd listened to "Love Me Tender" skyrocketed compared to the levels of participants who listened to different music.

In addition to listening to music, study participants already had taken three standard social behavior tests that evaluate willingness to approach and speak to strangers, emotional states, and various areas of adaptive and problem behavior. Those test results suggest that increased levels of oxytocin are linked to both increased desire to seek social interaction and decreased ability to process social cues, a double-edged message that may be very useful at times, for example, during courtship, but damaging at others, as in Williams syndrome.

In particular, the study results indicate that the missing genes affect the release of oxytocin and AVP through the hypothalmus and the pituitary gland. About the size of a pearl, the hypothalamus is located just above the brain stem and produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, mood, sex drive, sleep, hunger and thirst, and the release of hormones from many glands, including the pituitary. The pituitary gland, about the size of a pea, controls many other glands responsible for hormone secretion. The results of this study points to new clues as to what makes us and may prevent us from being just a bit more human.

Source: University of Utah Health Sciences

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2 Comments

  1. Entering a new school, Milam, for sixth grade in September 1946, Presley was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar in on a daily basis. He played and sang during lunchtime, and was often teased as a “trashy” kid who played hillbilly music. The family was by then living in a largely African-American neighborhood.”

  2. In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation. Some evidence shows that arginine may help improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart. That may improve symptoms of clogged arteries, chest pain or angina, and coronary artery disease. However, there currently is no data on how the long-term use of arginine affects cholesterol or heart health.“^*

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