August 13, 2002

Interesting article on Seasonal Preferences

Summer's tide is high and soon will turn. That's how it always is. On July 4, the entire summer lies before us. A few short weeks later, we're on the homestretch to Labor Day. Among us, there are those who will cling by our fingernails to the last shred of summer right through September and others who are secretly already a little sick of sand, chlorine, endless days and bored kids. Which camp are you in?

Some scientists believe that a person's outlook may come down to neurotransmitters in the brain.

Craig H. Kinsley, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia, said his friends accuse him of being "an evangelist for the brain.'' He believes that everything from whether you like chocolate or vanilla to whether you enjoy relaxing on a beach is related to the brain chemistry.

People who can't sit still, who crave new experiences, who desire new challenges and who are bored with summer relaxation may be driven by their brain's appetite for a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Kinsley said that dopamine is released during new experiences and enhances good feelings. Some of us have a greater need for dopamine than others. Those who are more content with a relaxed, low-key routine apparently have sufficient supplies of dopamine and don't need more, Kinsley said.

Dr. Michael Nuccitelli, a psychologist and executive director of SLS Health in Brewster, N.Y., said chemicals play a role in people's reactions to everything, but environmental factors play a role in how people feel about summer.

One of those factors is wealth. If you can afford beach houses, camps for your kids and summer toys such as boats or jet skis, you probably like summer better than someone who can't afford such luxuries. Nuccitelli considers himself a risk-taker, an adventuresome type, but he's not a big fan of summer because he can't stand the heat.

Dr. Nicholas DeMartinis, a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Conn., said that whether you mourn the demise of summer probably has a lot to do with whether you're an outdoorsy person.

"A lot of people find summer less stressful,'' said DeMartinis. "One of the best antidotes to stress is getting out and exercising. People may do less of that in the winter and it's easier for stress to build up.''

For those who are reactive to light, the days also grow shorter, which can lead to seasonal blues in the fall and winter.

Some people will find any transition rough-going. "These may be people with a more obsessive-compulsive personality, not a disorder,'' said DeMartinis. "They like to do things the same way, over and over and over. You start changing things and it's stressful.''

As for thrill-seekers, DeMartinis, they may be as likely to enjoy winter as summer if they are skiers or snowboarders.

In, general, Kinsley said, human beings weren't really made for a two-week beach vacation.

If you go back to early man, the competition for resources and for mates defined us, Kinsley said. We needed time for rest, but rest amounted to a good night's sleep. And then we were ready for more challenge.

"The animal, humans included, were not designed nor were we shaped by the crucible of natural selection, to just sit around,'' Kinsley wrote. "We crave stimulation, work, competition. Or most of us do.''

Perhaps that means that those of us who are able to look - without nausea - at the fall clothes already in department stores are more like our prehistoric relatives.

And those of us who long to sit on the beach till sunset in October have accepted change. You could even say we've evolved.
By Kathleen Megan The Hartford Courant

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