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Why Petraeus strayed -- and it's not what you think

November 14, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Oxytocin is a brain chemical known to promote trust and bonding. Maybe David Patraeus was missing his dose.
Oxytocin is a brain chemical known to promote trust and bonding. Maybe David… (Jerome Favre / EPA )

Although print is dead, and the mainstream media suspect, I know many folks still come to the Los Angeles Times for the real story.

That’s especially true when it comes to complicated stories, such as the David H. Petraeus affair.

And what do folks want? As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

So write this down, Joe:

  1. Petraeus has resigned as CIA director, having acknowledged carrying on an extramarital affair.
  2. It’s November.

Yep, that’s about all we know for sure.

OK, yes, there's Paula Broadwell, plus Jill Kelley, and the FBI, and the CIA, and the president and Gen. John Allen in Afghanistan, and -- well, as they used to say in Hollywood, a cast of thousands.

And there's Fox News, and there's the down-in-the-dumps GOP, which is desperate to blame something, anything, regarding this mess on President Obama. Except Petraeus was (is?) a hero to the right for saving President George W. Bush’s bacon in Iraq, so this one’s not the usual partisan slam dunk.

Somewhat lost in this rush to judgment, though, is the human factor. As in: What on Earth was Petraeus thinking? Fortunately, science may provide an answer. Apparently, Petraeus’ surge of interest (sorry, couldn’t resist) in another woman wasn’t emotional, it was chemical.

Huh?

Allow my colleague Melissa Healy to explain:

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience has uncovered a surprising new property of oxytocin, finding that when men in monogamous relationships got a sniff of the stuff, they subsequently put a little extra space between themselves and an attractive woman they'd just met.

And no, oxytocin isn’t the chemical used to neuter dogs. It is, Healy explains, “a brain chemical known to promote trust and bonding.”

Or, as Paul Zak, founding director of Claremont Graduate University's Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, told Healy:

"The finding that one's relationship status affects how oxytocin affects the brain provides some evidence that our brains evolved to form long-term romantic relationships," Zak said. "Hugh Hefner is the exception, not the role model for men."

Sure, Mr. Zak, anything you say. (I suspect he’s been sniffing a bit too much oxytocin.) But when they come out with an oxytocin nasal spray, I bet it will be in a handy purse-size bottle.

(Is there a male equivalent of oxytocin? Of course. It’s called money, and it’s so powerful -- at least in La La Land -- that it causes a woman to stand by her man no matter what, as long as he can get her a part in his next movie.)

But I digress. 

The oxytocin study could help explain the Petraeus story. It could also help explain why Hugh Hefner is an anomaly. Heck, it could even explain Bill Clinton, and John Edwards, and Edward VIII, and Henry the VIII, and, well, you get the picture.

But there’s only one thing I’m sure of right now:

It’s still November. 

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