So, the video above is of Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and professor at Rutgers University speaking at the ted conference in February of 2006.
Below is also a more recent interview with her on betterworldbooks.com about her newest book:
I’m going to synthesize everything I’ve learned from listening to her talk over the course of the past 2 days.
Generally, almost all of Dr. Fisher’s research can be considered what she likes to call PGO (a penetrating glimpse of the obvious). I liked this term so much, that I might just add it to my daily vocabulary. It means, that almost everything she has studied did not result in novel findings that almost everyone doesn’t already know to some degree. But, there is something so powerful about defining and understanding even the obvious.
“we struggle all our lives to know a few basic things about ourselves that the most casual passerby could tell us in a minute”
Her initial research is on romantic love and what exactly happens in the brain when someone is in love. She conducted an experiment with 32 people who were madly in love. 17 who were madly in love and their love was accepted and 15 of who had just been dumped. She ran them through a functional MRI brain scanner to see which areas of the brain show activity while looking at their loved one versus a neutral image (with a distraction exercise in between).
Her key findings boil down to the fact that there are three different stages of attraction:
1. Lust or the Sex Drive
2. Romantic Love
Lust or The Sex Drive (The Intolerable Neural Itch), evolutionarily is meant to be the initial step to set foot on the ‘mating’ scene. It is what gets a person up on their feet and scanning the population for potential partners. This is a very quick to react emotion, something you could feel when sharing just a look or a moment.
Romantic Love (Elation), Dr, Fisher explains, evolved so people could focus their energy on one mate at a time, priming them for reproduction and conserving mating energy. It is also NOT an emotion, it is a DRIVE. The same brain region that becomes active when you feel a rush of cocaine becomes active in people who are thinking about the person they are in love with. Love is like a ‘craving’ and comes from the motor part of the brain, like when you really want that piece of chocolate.
People in love attribute special meaning to their loved one and focus on them with a unique intensity. People in love aggrandize their lovers, are sexual possessive and obsessed. Every person Dr. Fisher put through the fMRI said they would die for the one they loved.
“love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another”
- George Bernard Shaw
Attachment (Security), evolved so, once in love, people could then tolerate each other long enough to raise a child with them.
Each of these three stages are independent from one another and therefore explain how we might love more than one person or feel deep attachment for one person but love someone else and then also feel sexually attracted to others.
Dr. Fisher then moves on to what she believes are two very impactful events on these systems of attraction:
1. Women moving BACK into the work force – Dr. Fisher explains that as women move into the work place they are actually moving closer and closer to the dual-family income of the past. In hunter and gather days women would commute to ‘work’ and gather about 60-80% of that evenings meal. With the increased usage of the plow, women’s role began to take a back seat to that of the man. With this shift back to dual-income we return to the ‘Symmetrical/Peer Marriage’ model.
2. The increasing usage of anti-depressants - anti-depressants actually raises levels of serotonin and suppresses the dopamine circuit and therefore the chemicals needed to create romantic love. When we have an orgasm there is a flood of dopamine (associated with romantic love), oxytocin and vasopressin (associated with attachment). Anti-depressants also eliminate the sex drive and without sex drive there is no orgasm and without orgasm humans are unable to fall in love or make attachments.
The next step in her research involves shedding light on why we fall in love with certain people verses other. Now, thinking about the age-old discussion about nature and nurture, each human being is made up of their character (experiences) and their temperament (biology). Dr. Fisher attempts to help the human mating process by helping us understand our TEMPERAMENT. How our temperament is shaped by our experiences, however, is unique to each individual.
The 6 Chemical Systems and their 4 Personality types:
1. Dopamine and Norepinephrine – The Explorer - risk taking, novelty seeking, optimistic, enthusiastic, and energetic. Interest in traveling and adventure.
2. Serotonin – The Builder - traditional, conventional, calm, social, networkers, managers of people, loyal, like rules and schedules. Values family tremendously.
3. Testosterone – The Director - analytical, logical, direct, exacting, technical skills, math, computers, engineering, mechanics, aggressive, competitive, ambitious, debate, emotionally contained, (apparently they don’t move their faces when they talk all that much). See as intellectuals, geeks or nerds.
4. Estrogen and Oxytocin – The Negotiator – see the big picture, holistic, imaginative, great verbal skills, companionate, emotional expressive, and artistic. Their main goal in life is to follow their passion. They are also huge readers.
Additionally, depending on what systems you are ruled by you are attracted to a certain chemical system in a partner. The general matching patterns are as follows:
Explorers are generally attracted to other Explorers
Builders are generally attracted to other Builders
Negotiators, however, are attracted to Directors (and vis versa)
Generally Builders and Explorers tend to dislike each other. Explorers and Negotiators are most concentrated in big cities, whereas Builders are most often found in the suburbs. Directors are found more so in the mountains.
And lastly another nugget of interesting information, when in the womb all humans are washed over by both Testosterone and Estrogen (called priming) in this process if you have a lot of testosterone priming, it will make you logical, mathematical, and give you ‘Director’ like qualities. It will also make your ring finger longer than your pointer. Check it out! It’s totally biologically sound!
If you would like to take her test, to find out what combination of the chemical systems you are here is the link: