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Posted: January 6th, 2010
Lust, Romance & Attachment: The Science of Love and Whom We Choose

What happens when you fall in love? Helen Fisher says it begins when someone takes on special meaning. “The world has a new center,” she says, “then you focus on him or her. Your beloved’s car is different from every other car in the parking lot, for example. People can list what they don’t like about their sweetheart, but they sweep these things aside and focus on what they adore. Intense energy, elation, mood swings, emotional dependence, separation anxiety, possessiveness, a pounding heart and craving are all central to this madness. But most important is obsessive thinking.” As Fisher says, “Someone is camping in your head.”

A biological anthropologist who has conducted fMRI studies on the brains of people in love, Fisher maintains that humans have evolved three core brain systems for mating and reproduction: lust, romantic attraction, and attachment to a long term partner. Fisher and her colleagues have put 49 people into a brain scanner (fMRI) to study the brain circuitry of romantic love: 17 had just fallen madly in love; 15 had just been dumped; 17 reported they were still in love after an average of 21 years of marriage. One of her central ideas is that romantic love is a drive stronger than the sex drive. She says, “After all, if you causally ask someone to go to bed with you and they refuse, you don’t slip into a depression, or commit suicide or homicide; but around the world people suffer terribly from rejection in love.” She also maintains that taking serotonin-enhancing antidepressants (SSRIs) can potentially dampen feelings of romantic love and attachment, as well as the sex drive.

Fisher has looked at marriage and divorce in 58 societies, adultery in 42 cultures, patterns of monogamy and desertion in birds and mammals, and gender differences in the brain and behavior. In her newest work, she reports on four biologically-based personality types, and using data on 28,000 people collected on the dating site Chemistry.com, she explores who you are and why you are chemically drawn to some types more than others.

Recorded at The New York Academy of Sciences on January 5, 2010.  Runtime: 87 minutes.

This event is part of the Girls Night Out at The New York Academy of Sciences series.

Follow @sciandthecity to learn more about Girls Night Out.

Explore human emotions on THIS EMOTIONAL LIFE.

Read The New York Academy of Science’s Public Outreach Director Helen Fisher’s blog post about meeting Helen Fisher and bringing her to NYAS.

About The New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is a membership organization with over 24,000 members in 140 countries. They include research scientists at universities and industry, as well as representatives of business, government, and policy organizations. Our Board of Governors and President’s Council include 26 Nobel laureates and other prominent leaders of academia and industry, based in New York and around the world.


  • comments (4)
  • InYourFaceNewYorker

    I’m the one asking the question at 1:07:35! :D

  • Jeffery

    What scientists, not to mention the rest of us, want to know is, Why? What makes us go so loony over love? Why would we bother with this elaborate exercise in fan dances and flirtations, winking and signaling, joy and sorrow? I guess we have only a very limited understanding of what romance is in a scientific sense but this limited understanding s expanding.

    Regards.
    Jeffrey

  • j. david medina

    Since Iám skeptical of stereotypes, I really would like to read about the so called 4 personality traits or types Dr. Fisher has “found”/analized.

  • Payne

    It would be wonderful to be able to see the slides Dr. Fisher is referring to in her lecture. I was a student of Dr. Aaron’s at SUNY Stonybrook while he was conducting the MRI studies with Dr. Fisher and have always wanted to know more about the work they did. However my area of study was vastly different and being a graduate student- I had no time or energy to invest elsewhere. Is there any way to see Dr. Fisher’s slides? Thank you for providing this to the public PBS. It is a real gift.

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