Atheist Society of Nigeria

We seek a Nigeria where public policies are based on rational reasoning and critical thinking and not influenced by religious beliefs

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Thursday, 5 October 2017

A Scientific Slant on Juju and Black Magic - Part 2



If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll probably recollect that the first part of this series attempted explaining the phenomenon responsible for belief in Juju and Black magic—magical thinking.  The blog post elucidated the phenomenon and cited a Nigerian atheist’s first-hand experience with juju.

There is a common phenomenon people are afraid of here in Nigeria.  If a man loves his wife deeply and is willing to be chivalrous to her, spend money on the woman and generally be nice to her, she is accused of casting a spell on the man by putting love potion into his food!

Likewise, if a woman marries way beneath her social class, like a Medical doctor getting married to a bus driver, the bus driver is accused of casting a spell on her!

How is this possible? Here’s a scientific explanation on the so-called love potion.

First of all, it is helpful to remember that most human beings have a prototype of the ideal partner they would like to date and marry. This prototype (mental picture) is influenced by culture, past experiences, interests… you get the drift.  When the person meets someone who more or less fits the mental picture of the ideal partner, what happens?

Brain chemicals are released in the love-struck person i.e. dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin together with the hormone oxytocin.  The love-struck person is literally high on hormones!

Let’s look at what these brain chemicals do to a love-struck person:


  1. Dopamine:  This causes intense focus on the object of love, high feelings of pleasure, and increased energy.  It’s literally like the beloved is a hard drug that arouses such happy feelings in the love-struck person.
  2.  Serotonin: This neurotransmitter causes obsessive thoughts about the beloved to occur to the love-struck person. It’s almost like he can’t get the beloved out of his mind! 
  3. Oxytocin:  Called the bonding hormone, oxytocin makes two lovers feel closer and more attached to each other.  This hormone is released during tactile contact, e.g. hugs, kisses, pats, and sexual intercourse.

Aren't these hormones released in everybody in love? How come some people tend to be more smitten by Cupid’s arrow, sometimes to the point of defying all reason? Yes, these hormones are released in everybody in love. But… There’s a big but.

The very nature of these hormones implies they happen to be somewhat unbalanced in people living with mental illnesses, whether undiagnosed or currently undergoing treatment. 

Take dopamine for instance.

Dopamine is a brain chemical that very high levels cause mania and sometimes psychosis, as seen in people living with Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia.  The surge in dopamine in such people (whether undiagnosed or being treated) has the potential to impair judgement, which leads to the unbalanced person making most unwise decisions e.g. spending sprees, risky sex, unwise business decisions, impulsivity, etc.

This is why we sometimes hear cases of a man spending outrageous amounts of money on a girlfriend he met barely a month ago, without taking into consideration whether the woman in question is truly suited for him. Other times, we hear of a woman eloping with a lover without the knowledge and consent of any family member & friend, who might have more sound judgement.

Serotonin is a brain chemical that drops to low levels in love-struck people, levels similar to people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  This low level of serotonin makes the love-struck person obsess about the beloved ad nauseam. 

“Oh, do you know what Emeka told me today?  Oh, have you seen what Seyi did for me last week? Oh… Friends and family members get inundated by the many tales about the beloved, and even when they try to admonish the love-struck person about the lack of wisdom inherent in coupling with his choice of partner, he just can’t take heed!

Why?  Because his abnormally low levels of serotonin have made his brain go on a loop. He is literally compelled to be with the beloved, just like an obsessive-compulsive is literally compelled to repeat his obsessive rituals. In some cases, the brain comes down to its baseline neurotransmitter levels. 

What happens when this occurs?

The love-struck person gets disillusioned by his choice of romantic partner. Almost as if the scales fell from his eyes. The idealization of the beloved ends, to be replaced with demonization and the inevitable discarding of the romantic partner.

Does this mean no such things as love potions exist?

Stimulants in form of certain spices and aphrodisiacs exist that have the potential to cause neurotransmitter imbalance in highly susceptible individuals. Much the same way a highly susceptible individual is likely to be negatively affected by street drugs like cocaine.  It is possible that ingestion of such stimulants or depressants in the diet can cause love-struck behavior in an individual.

However, such stimulants and depressants cannot make the person to whom it is given fall in love with a human being other than his prototype of a romantic partner. True, they can cause impulsive actions and poor judgement, but real love for a human being other than the mental picture of an ideal romantic partner, No.

This behoves on everybody to develop their powers of judgement, impulse control, decision-making, rationality and critical thinking while outside a romantic relationship!  Such well-developed cognitive skills come especially handy in the choice of a romantic partner.

Then stories like love potion would cease to exist.

Atheist Society of Nigeria seeks to show the way to developing cognitive skills, which come in handy in business decisions, life choices, education, socio-political decisions, and allied matters.

By, Oge Igboegbunam.

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