Helen Fisher PhD Why People Fall in Love

I studied the brain in love I my colleagues Lucy Brown art Aaron and Bianca Acevedo have now put over a hundred people into the brain scanner to study the brain circuitry of romantic love and attachment 17 were people who are happily in love 15 were people who had just been rejected in love and 17 who were people who were in love long term then in the Year 2005 match.com the internet dating site came to me and asked me why do you fall in love with one person rather than the other and I said I don't know nobody knows we do know that you tend to fall in love with somebody from the same socio-economic background same general level of intelligence same general level of good looks same religious and social values reproductive goals but you know you can walk into a room and everybody is from your background same level of intelligence and good looks and you don't fall in love with all of them so that drove me to wonder about the saying you know we have chemistry people will say well we have chemistry and I thought to myself maybe we have some biological makeup that naturally drawn that draws us to some people rather than others so I began to look into the biology of the brain to see if like I could find any trait at all that was linked with any biological system I found for the dopamine serotonin testosterone and estrogen systems they're all linked with a different constellation of personality traits so I created a questionnaire to see to what degree you express those traits linked with each one of these biological systems and I put that personality questionnaire there's 56 questions on it I would have liked to have left them on your seat so that you could take it to and it's now been taken by 13 million people in 40 countries and indeed I can watch about 30,000 people take it every week and I can watch who is naturally drawn to home so for the next probably 25 minutes I want to tell you the short story of the brain in love and why we fall in love with one person another and end on some of our newest data unhappiness in the jungles of Guatemala there stands a temple it was built by the grandest Sun King of the grandest city-state to calm of the grandest new world empire the Maya his name was Cossack and Chavo he stood over six feet tall he lived into his 80s and he was buried beneath this temple in or around 720 AD and Mayan inscriptions say that he was madly in love with his wife she died young so he built a temple for her facing his and every spring and autumn exactly at the equinox the Sun rises behind his temple and perfectly bathed her temple with his shadow and in the evening the Sun rise assess behind her temple and perfectly bathed his temple with her shadow some thirteen hundred years later these lovers still touch from the grave around the world people love they sing for love they dance for love they compose poems and stories and ballets and operas and movies and plays about love they retell myths and legends about love they have love charms love potions and love magic we had we find for love we live for love we kill for love and we die for love is one of the most powerful brain systems that the human animal has ever evolved as a matter of fact the ancient Greeks called it the madness of the gods and indeed it is I think that it is one of three basic brain systems that evolved from mating and reproduction one is a sex drive craving for sexual gratification WH Auden called it an intolerable neural itch that's what happens and it's associated with testosterone in the brain it can have no object you can feel the sex drive when you're just walking along in the street reading a magazine driving your car it can be focused on a whole range of different partners the second of the three brain systems is romantic love the one that I study most passionate love obsessive love in love in saturation no matter what you call it I'm going to maintain that it's linked with a different brain system the dopamine system we've heard a lot about that this morning I'll say a little bit more it's focused on one person in fact on George Bernard Shaw once he defined love as he said love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another and indeed we do and the third brain system is attachment that sense of calm and security that you can feel for a long-term partner associated by of it with other scientists work with oxytocin and vasopressin I think these three brain systems evolved for different reasons I think the sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for a whole range of partners I think romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your meeting energy on just one at a time and I think that third brain system evolved to enable you to tolerate this human being at least long enough to raise their children together as a team there's very many company there's a lot of complicated ways that these three brain systems interact you know you call fall madly in love with somebody in three weeks ago the guy was just a nice guy in the gym and all of a sudden everything even the way he moves his hands everything comes sexually attractive to them and this is in part because with romantic love you're driving up the dopamine system and the dopamine system has a natural as a positive correlation with the testosterone system and it shoots up the testosterone system and boom all of a sudden that person is very sexually attractive to you and of course the reverse can actually also be true you know you can casually go to bed with somebody and all of a sudden fall in love with them and it is because inhabit all the time but it can happen and it can happen because as you're driving up the testosterone system with the sex drive you're triggering the dopamine system and you can you can push yourself over the threshold into falling in love and also with sex sir with orgasm there's a real flood of oxytocin linked with feelings of attachment so casual sex is not casual unless you're so drunk you can't remember Williams miss Crowe it's not something you you something is going on in the brain and Justins going to say a good deal more about that bottom line is these three brain systems are not always connected you can feel deep attachment for one person you lie in bed at night and feel deep attachment for one person and then swing in the feelings of wild romantic love for somebody else and then swing into feelings of the sex drive for somebody else it's as if there's a committee meeting going on in your head as you see as you swing from one brain system to another and of course all of this evolved it evolved along with enormous number of complex mechanisms from mate choice and for love and an end attachment but the one I'm really going to talk about now is romantic love there's a lot of traits of romantic love and first one is what I call special meaning a person one person wrote once you said the world had a new center and that Center was Mary Ann you just focus on this person you can list with you before I put people in the brain scanner I would ask them you know what do you not like about him or her and they could list what they didn't like about him or her but then they swept that aside and just focused as focused on what they adored intense energy you can walk all night talk till dawn euphoria when things are going well mood swings a little horrible despair when things are going poorly real bodily reactions and awkwardness stammering butterflies in the stomach but a bad deal you know the one moment you want to be your coolest and you can barely call out you know how are you this evening it's just you're you're overcome actually probably with the norepinephrine response a real emotional dependence and before I put people in the I'm an anthropologist not a psychologist and I so interviewing these people wasn't totally normal for me and I've gotten used to it but the most difficult question from me before I put them into the brain scanners would you die for him or her and a good number of them would say yeah they would say yes as if I had asked him to pass the ketchup they were just just you know will they dying for another human being real separation anxiety frustration attraction the more you can't get them the more you like them we now know some of the brain circuitry of that very well said by the ancient Roman poet terrence who said the less my hope of the hotter my love we now know the brain circuitry event intense sex drive jealousy possessiveness anthropologists call it mate guarding and probably our world's crimes of passion all come from there's tremendous drive to protect this individual that you love but the three basic emotions of romantic love are intense craving for emotional Union yeah you'd like to have sex with them but what you really want them to do is call right tell you that they love you obsessive thinking about them somebody's camping in your head and intense motivation to win them indeed to win life's greatest prize which is a mating partner and last but not least involuntary Stendhal once said he said love is like a fever it comes and goes quite independently of the will and indeed it does so I thought that I could put these people into a brain Skinner and we began my hypothesis was everything here in red are traits that are linked in one way or another with the brain's reward system with the dopamine system obsessive thinking is probably linked with low serotonin bodily reactions with the norepinephrine system sex drive certainly with the testosterone system made guarding perhaps with the vasopressin system and all kinds of combinations of long no system in the brain works all by itself but the bottom line is I thought maybe I could find people who were passionately in love and put them into this scanner and begin to convince the world that this is not part of the supernatural that is part of a profoundly basic brain system that evolved from mating and reproduction so I began to do it this was a cartoon New Yorker got onto our thing and can't get two people into a scanner is what a basic scanner looks like I'm sure you know but nevertheless we got them into the machine and we got them out and we found a lot of activity and a lot of different brain regions but most important we found activity a trainee little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area and it's the brain region little factory that actually makes dopamine and sends it to many brain regions it's the brain region linked with wanting with craving with obsession and when I saw that and I also found activity and we just got this is the first time I've ever been able to say we found activity in the nucleus accumbens this is for ten years I have waited to see if I could ever find this and we finally found it a couple months ago nucleus accumbens is linked with addiction eivol long maintained that romantic love is an addiction a positive addiction when it's going well with the right personally than appropriate circumstances and a perfectly horribly negative addiction when it's going poorly so we've found that and indeed when I saw this data I finally realized something you know you heard a lot this morning about the emotions I always felt that romantic love was an emotion perfect you know I mean or a whole group of emotions from high to low low and there are a lot of emotions involved there's a lot of cognitive processes involved but what it really is is a drive it comes from primitive brain regions way below the emotions associated with wanting and in fact I read a lot of world poetry I think it's a great artifact of the human mind and how the mind works and of all the poems that I have ever read I think love is best defined by Plato in the in the symposium when he said the god of love lives in a state of need it is a need it is a homeostatic imbalance it is a craving it is an obsession is an obsession as I said to find and focus on and win life's greatest prize which is a mating partner here's one of our scans of the ventral tegmental area and the list I think it's stronger than the sex drive and you know if you ask somebody casually to go to bed with you you don't and they say no you don't kill yourself and around the world people really do kill themselves and others or stalk or slip into clinical depression when they have been rejected in love so I think we volve a long time ago these are some people living about 3.2 million years ago the newest data on Ardipithecus ramidus 4.4 million i think that by then there's various Carrick features of the face which is too long to explain that indicate by then they were beginning to form pair bonds to rear their young and not necessarily sexually faithful to those pair bonds but forming pair bonds to rear their young and indeed along with that I came I think the the brain circuitry for romantic love began to develop in the human line I think it's a very very old very primitive very primordial and if we woulda live a million years from now I think that brain system would still be with us son can it last well most people don't think it can last and so we began to decide we were going to put older people into the brain and into the scanner who were maintaining telling us that they were still madly in love with their partner so we did that the first author is Bianca Acevedo Lucy brown our neuroscientist in the middle and me and sure enough among people they were all married an average of 21 years they all had grown children they all telling us that they were still madly in love not just loving but in love with their partner and long-term and we found we did the same experiment on them and we found the same activity in the ventral tegmental area linked with feelings of intense romantic passion we also found activity in brain regions linked with attachment and in that way it was very similar to those individuals who had just fallen happily in love but we also found some Neels we found activity in a brain region once again in these brain regions near the base of the brain linked with with calm and and Pain Suppression and we found no activity in a brain region linked with anxiety you know when you've just fallen in love you are anxious you know I mean what did I say that for how come I'm like too fat why didn't I do that what is he saying here you're anxious and all of that is now gone in long term love so why do you fall in love with one person rather than another this was the question that match.com came to me with and as I said I know timing is is is important I would even add at my age that lighting is important but anyway certainly we do tend to fall in love with somebody from the same socio-economic and background same level of intelligence good looks education etc etc childhood always plays a role but I want to know if your biology played a role too so I looked through all the biological literature took me a couple years went through the last 40 years of it and I found four brain systems as I mentioned the beginning each one linked with a constellation of personality traits and this is the questionnaire using those personality traits now I'm not talking about types we all have all four these brain systems and many others in fact I recently with the scientists from Princeton a geneticist we looked at a hundred thousand people who took my questionnaire and no two people answered that question in the same way which is exactly what I had hoped for as I've never met two people who I thought were alike I'm an identical twin and even we are not exactly alike but we found patterns we found patterns to how they took the questionnaire and here are the patterns first of all I decided I had to name these people so my academic name is those who are particularly expressive of the traits linked with dopamine I called curious energetic those linked with serotonin cautious social norm compliant those who scored very high on the testosterone scale analytical tough-minded and those who scored high on the estrogen and oxytocin scale pro-social empathetic we're all a combination of all of them as I say but we express some more than others so here are the before and then of course I was able to watch who's naturally drawn to home because I knew but what the answers to their questions on the questionnaire and then watched who they're drawn to so the first oh I had to name them for I work with them an internet dating site you gotta have a regular name so I call them the Explorer the Builder the director and the negotiator not good terms but I'm stuck with them now so anyway those who are very expressive of the dopamine system tend to be novelty seeking risk-taking academics called it sensation seeking they're curious they've got the most interest an interest I would guess isn't great many of them in the room they make the most money and they lose the most money there they are explorers a physical and mental optimistic actually I think Obama is very much of this category I was very amused the night that he won the election the first year the onion the humor magazine online the big lines that I said black man given worst job in the world and he's still optimistic about it energetic independent impulsive unreflective I'm one of them I'm unreflective and matter of fact I was making a speech to pile of therapist I could talk to a lot a couples therapist and I said you know I don't really care who I am some guy in the back of the room he screamed he said you want to talk about it I didn't want to talk about it mentally flexible open-minded much more likely to be a Democrat much more likely to live in the state of California trickly the north I got a lot of data for the country I should have put that data in there anyway but their main thing is they are curious idea generation is linked with the dopamine system a good example is Richard Branson you know he has the urge to of life to its full this the Explorer does another person is ylang-ylang I don't know if you've ever heard him the pianist dazzling Flair charisma bravado daredevil is just a wild guy magnificent on the piano but you can see that dopamine just seeping out of him and these people are drawn to people like themselves I've done studies with some with 30,000 people twice and and curious creative energetic people want somebody like themselves the second broad style is those expressive with the serotonin system the main thing is they observe social norms they follow the rules they like the familiar the cautious they're not scared but they're cautious they tend to like routines plans schedules they're orderly persistent that very literal they like the details rather than the big picture are they're very good with math on average important for them to belong it was interesting because I think was Susan this morning was talking about how we are all I'm eager to belong some people are more eager to belong and I do think there's a genetic component to them they respect authority follow the rules their religious religiosity is at least in part in this era tonin system and this is why if you are taking I don't know ecstasy or or LSD or one of them you're driving up the serotonin system and this is why people will have a religious experience so I'm told I'm in California whatever and the honest thing about them is the thing about loyalty mathematically it is so stuck with this system one of the questions it's something like I'll never remember the question but something like have you um would you rather have loyal friends or interesting friends well we all want loyal friends and we all want interesting friends but these people cannot tolerate unloyal friends and the other three types cannot tolerate uninteresting friends the real distinction between these types a good example is meg whitman holy smokes i and even more so is mr. Romney and once again this type is very drawn to people like themselves traditional conventional social conforming is drawn to people like themselves the other two are drawn to their opposite high testosterone type tend to be analytical logical spatially skilled inventive experimental rank oriented something called dominance matching they will attack and they expect you to attack back and if you don't they think that you're weak and as a matter of fact when I work with a company I'll say to somebody attack them back and when they do it actually works but of course if it's your boss you know you've got to consider this sort of thing but they're emotionally contained I have a girlfriend who said to me recently she said she said to her husband she said you know you haven't told me that you loved me in a month and he said well I said that last month and nothing's changed they're all so decisive bold and direct these are the ones that say get to the point Steve Jobs is a perfect example also his face it's very high testosterone the heavy brow rate is the highs I go matic arch the cheekbones the very strong square jaw in the high forehead are all linked with Sun testosterone perfectionist exacting and Hillary Clinton certainly women can be very high in testosterone when asked why she was attracted to Bill and she said he wasn't afraid of me and the last of the four broad systems are the estrogen oxytocin system these people see the big picture it's because of the way the brain the architecture of the brain they tend to be contextual holistic long-term thinkers very imaginative a very interesting article came out this past week about imagination and it once again showed that it's the kind of brain that's very well connected with all kinds of systems in gear at the same time that gives you that imagination and in fact I would say that women are on average somewhat more imaginative than men because they do tend to have this more globally connected brain there's many traits that men have that women don't - I've been very sort of a lone voice of one to try and explain to the world that women that men fall in love just as much etcetera but anyway these people both men and women who are expressive of the estrogen oxytocin system they're linguistically skilled good at picking up postures gestures tone of voice very good at what was they said this morning theory of mind getting into somebody's head and figuring out what they're thinking and they can be very empathetic is linked with the estrogen system and what's interesting to me about this one is the word trusting anthropologists haven't really known why the evolution of trusting I mean if you trust the wrong person you're really us out to lunch but if you trust the right person you actually save a great deal of metabolic energy and you can begin to see how all of these traits will go together you can't be trusting unless you can get into other people's heads and read what they're thinking etc so you can begin to see how the evolution of a host of traits will evolve together they tend to be introspective you know Freud once said it's a good sometimes a cigar is just a cigar no none of these folks everything means something just the way you cut that orange in the morning for breakfast means something they seek harmony they're not any nicer than others they'll stab you in the back instead of hit you in the face but the bottom line is they they seek harmony they become agreeable emotionally expressive and have a diplomatic intelligence Oprah Winfrey's I think one example I think Bill Clinton is another example you know he's the one that cried at their daughter's wedding not his wife whole world knows he can't stop talking and as a man you know people have wondered when when we're going to get our first female president I think we've had our first female that's and of course Charles Darwin a brilliant man a wonderful combination of the dopamine and the estrogen systems connected more things on this planet than any scientist or anybody before or since so this week I hope my academic article will come out in a really fine journal in which I've put two groups of people into the brain scanner had them take my personality questionnaire and we're finding we are mapping the brain circuitry of these four broad styles of thinking and behaving so I will just go on to say what makes a happy relationship what has all this data shown me and others about happiness and I had a lot more to say about this but I'm all going to say one thing it was a study that we did in China you know when you do brain scanning studies you've got to do them over and over you can't just do one study and have anybody believe you so one of personel lab went to China and did the first experiment over again the one of people happily in love and three and a half years later and we found exactly the same thing in the brain and three and a half years later they went back and to find out whether these couples were still together and indeed half of them were together and half of them had now broken up so we went back and looked at those original brain scans to see whether the people who were still together had some sort of brain architecture or function that the others did not and we found activity in a little factory in the medial prefrontal cortex in the blue there and that brain region is linked with suspending negative judgment over evaluating your partner and when Lucy my brain scan scanning partner look what we found we found this area and I said that's positive illusions that's what academic psychologist called positive illusions the simple ability to overlook everything you cannot stand about him and just focus on what you do and indeed these seemed this seems to be a brain region that is linked with the ability to have a happy long-term relationship so I'm going to close with this this is not the only thing we're going to find love is the most important thing that we do with our lives if Darwin were here today he would end up saying you know if you have four children and I have no children you live on and I die out the game of love matters it is a basic drive that evolved millions of years ago and along with it are going to be all kinds of myriad different brain systems that enable us to pick the person that's right for us thank you