Editors’ Note

Issue 26: The trust molecule, Luther’s forerunner, and the joy of watching a soccer great.

After this week’s Women’s World Cup final, I asked Jake Meador (who wrote this issue’s piece on the mysteries of soccer) whether he derived more awe from great stars like Lionel Messi or from the more generalized beauty of the game itself. The difference isn’t so stark, he said. “At first I think you need to see the master using the tool for you to appreciate it,” he told me. He’s more likely to appreciate the generalized beauty of the violin when hearing it played by Joshua Bell than by an amateur, he said. But there’s a joy and satisfaction in seeing even lesser-skilled players reach beyond their grasp.

It turns out that oxytocin, the subject of our lead story this issue, seems to play a role in blurring the line between star soccer players and their skilled teams. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciencesfound a connection between a player celebrating a successful penalty kick and that player’s team winning a penalty shootout. Raising both arms in the air was especially effective at encouraging subsequent teammates to score. (It also seemed to encourage subsequent opponents to miss!) A follow-up study published in The Scientific World Journalargued that a key mechanism driving the effect was oxytocin: the chemical lets successful players share their emotions with their team, boosting confidence, team cohesion, and other good feelings that help players perform better.

I won’t try to draw a connection between oxytocin and John Hus, whose death (600 years ago this week) we’re commemorating in this issue. But in rereading his story I have no doubt that it triggered a fair bit of oxytocin in my own brain. Like the star athlete whose goals ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 26 / July 9, 2015
  1. The Shalom of Neurochemistry

    Oxytocin rewards us for human connection. /

  2. The Long Legacy of a Roasted Goose

    Proto-reformer John Hus was burned at the stake 600 years ago this week. We are all Hussites now. /

  3. The Messi-ness of the World

    The universe is losing a bit of its enchantment for me. But then there’s Barcelona’s forward. /

  4. Cast

    ‘The hobbyist / aims a drum / of fierce / aluminum.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 26: Links to amazing stuff /

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