Helen Fisher on Love, Lust and Attachment
I am sure that you will join me in looking
forward to what our guest Ellen Fischer has to say tonight. And it is my great pleasure to welcome her to Binghamton University and to all of you to an evening that promises to be very stimulating. And again, I thank you for coming. (Clapping). Good evening. I am delighted to be here. I’m delighted that you’re here. Thank you very much Justin Garcia and David Sloan-Wilson for inviting me. You’ve got a really intellectually, energetic campus. I am really impressed with
it. So anyway, I want to tell you about two things tonight. Um, I and my colleagues have put forty-nine people who are madly in love into a brain scanner. Ah, seventeen who had just fallen in love, fifteen who had just been rejected in love and . . . seventeen who report that they are still in love after an average of twenty-one
years of marriage. So, that’s probably why I’m here. But, ah, I also, having done that, ah, Match.com, the Internet dating sight came to me um, three years ago, three and a half years ago . . . And asked me to start a new dating sight for them. It’s now called Chemistry.com. And, um, 5 million Americans have taken my questionnaire on Chemistry.com and 2 million in 39 other countries, have taken it. And, my question was, um, “Why do you fall in love with one person?” I had spent all these years trying to figure out what happens in the brain, when you fall in love. And, then my next question is, “Why would somebody say, “We have chemistry?” And, somebody else say, “We didn’t have any chemistry.” Was there . . . “Is there something about our human chemistry that draws us to some people, rather than others?” So, tonight, I want to first talk about um, the brain scanning and what love is and why it evolved . . . and then go into the subject that at the moment, is dearest to my heart. Why him? Why her? Around the world, people love . . . they sing for love, they dance for love . . . They compose poems and stories about love. They retell myths and legends about love. They have love charms, love potions, love magic. They pine for love, they live for love . . . they kill for love, and they die for love. Anthropologists have now found evidence of romantic love in 170 societies and not in one culture in the world . . . we’re they’ve actually looked, have they not found it. Everywhere . . . So far, no negative evidence. But, ah, in fact, so many people describe love differently. That I’ve come to believe, ah, that we’ve evolved pretty distinctly. I divide love into three really distinctly different brain systems. The sex drive, associated with testosterone in both men and women and as W.A. Jordan called it, an intolerable neural itch. Ah, Pablo Neruda called it an eternal thirst or an infinite ache. Ah, you can feel it not even for a particular person. You can feel the sex drive when you are driving along in your car. When you read a book, when you watch a movie, when you think of something when you are sitting in a chair. Ah, it doesn’t necessarily focus on one particular human being. The second of the three brain systems is romantic love . . . that focus, the craving . . . the possessiveness. I’ll talk more about it in a minute. Um, it’s people call it passionate love, obsessive love, being in love infatuation . . . I think they are all combinations of the same thing. Um. George Bernard Shaw summed up love I think very well. He said, “Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another . . . ” And, indeed. Ah, that’s what we do . . . to figure out that some of the brain systems that are involved, certainly dopamine is . . . And, I think also norepinephrine is. That’s what gives you the pounding heart, the sweaty palms. Um, the stammering and low levels of serotonin, which is what I think, gives you the obsessive thinking. Of all of the characters of romantic love, I think that the most . . . um, the core of it is that you can’t stop thinking about this person. There’s somebody camping in your head . . . Um, and the last of the three brain systems is attachment . . . other scientists have associated it with different brain chemical systems . . . Oxycotin and vazopresin. And, in fact . . . um, these three brain systems can be ah, very well connected to each other. For example, when you fall in love with somebody . . . Ah, dopamine is going up . . . And, um, suddenly, every single thing about that person . . . becomes sexually attractive to you. Yesterday, it was another nice guy at the gym or a good looking woman sitting in your French class. And, all of a sudden, every single thing that they do, is sexual to you. Just the way they hold their pencil or walk down the hall. Everything about them becomes sexual. And, I think it’s because at least in part, because elevated activity of the dopamine system triggers testosterone and shoots up the sex drive. And, of course, that’s the whole point of romantic love . . . is to trigger the sex drive and to start ah, reproduction. Now let’s thank Ellen one more time. (Clapping) . . .