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Your heart is racing, your palms are sweating, you can’t eat, you can’t sleep — they’re all you can think about. Is it love? Or is it a sudden surge of chemicals to the brain? Psychologists, biologists, lovers and haters have been debating the subject for years—and we may never know what exactly makes our hearts go pitter-patter.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropology professor and human behavior researcher at Rutgers University, discussed her research into why we fall in love with the people we do, and what happens to our brains systems when we are in love, with Scott Stossel for Atlantic Magazine at the 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival and was featured on Minnesota Public Radio.
According to her interview at the 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival and her article "Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction and Attachment," there are three basic stages to love:
Stage 1: Sex drive, or lust, which is fueled by Testosterone, is characterized by lust, physical attraction, and the desire to procreate.
Stage 2: Romantic love is fueled by Norepinephrine, Dopamine and Serotonin. Norepinephrine is responsible for restlessness, sweaty palms, racing heart and racing thoughts. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of elation, giddiness, pleasure and can be habit forming—literally. Dopamine activates the same neurotransmitters as cocaine use and you can almost become addicted to falling in love. Contrary to popular belief, those who claim to be madly in love actually have lower levels of Serotonin then those who are unattached, and these lower levels have been linked to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
Stage 3: The final stage, emotional attachment, is characterized by a sense of common security and fulfillment and is triggered by releases of Vasopressin and Oxytocin during sexual activity. Increased levels of Oxytocin, released during orgasm, increases a sense of attachment and emotional intimacy.
“In the U.S., about 90 percent of Americans will marry at some point—we’re just doing it later,” she said in the interview. “The later you marry, the more likely you are to remain married.”
Recently Helen Fisher released her fifth book on the subject “Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type” and has been consulting for the Internet dating service Chemistry.com, an affiliate of Match.com developing questionnaires.
“So, then I looked at who is drawn to whom, and that’s when I began to see nature’s pattern, she said. “ There will always be magic to love … but I’m trying to enable people to kiss fewer frogs.”
In her book, Fisher discusses characteristics four basic personality types interact with one another.
The Explorer—Driven by Dopamine, the Explorer exhibits spontaneity, risk-taking, novelty seeking, curiosity, creativity, impulsivity, spontaneous generosity, irreverence, energy and a tendency toward liberal ideals. Fisher believes that President Barack Obama would be a good example of the Explorer. A tendency toward addiction is also Dopamine system. Almost all Explorers who took the questionnaire used the words adventure and change. Explorers often go for explorers, for better or for worse.
The Builder—Named “the Guardian” by Plato, Serotonin is the hormone that most influences the Builder. The Builder is traditional, conventional, follows social norms, cautious but not fearful, calm, social, managerial, thorough, detailed, patient, conventionally religious not spiritual and loyal. Examples Helen Fisher listed were Colin Powell and George Washington. Fisher believes these individuals are prone to being obsessive compulsive. Builders used keywords such as family morals, values, trust, trustworthy and respect most often. Builders are also drawn to each other and similarities attract.
The Director—Led by Testosterone in women and in men, the Director is analytical, rational, direct, decisive, tough-minded; would rather do the right thing and hurt peoples feelings very good at rule-based systems such as math, engineering, mechanics, computers; aggressive, competitive, self-contained, narrow-focused and are susceptible mind-blindness. Bill Gates, Senator John McCain and Hillary Clinton are good examples according to Fisher. Testosterone is also linked to Autism. The Director frequently used words on the questionnaire such as intellectual, geek, nerd, politics, driven, challenge and real. Directors are often attracted to Negotiators, and Negotiators are often attracted to Directors.
The Negotiator – Fisher believes that Bill Clinton is a good example of Negotiators, who exhibit high levels of Estrogen as well as high levels of Testosterone. These people see big picture, have holistic views, are very imaginative, have very good people skills, very good verbal skills, are idealistic, are good communicators and are emotionally expressive. Negotiators are also prone to anxiety and classic depression.
Fisher also believes that culture plays an enormous role in who a person is. She has found that people tend to fall in love with someone from a similar socio-economic background, people who have the same general level of intelligence, same general level of good looks and similar and religious/social values. Fisher said our childhood also plays a role that cannot be always be explained or predicted by popular psychology.
Many studies have also found that people with blue eyes typically choose mates with blue eyes as a natural paternity test and that we are often attracted to those with pheromones that compliment our own, indicating varied immunities that would be advantageous when procreating.
“You can walk into a room and everybody is from your background and general level of intelligence and general level of good looks; and you don’t fall in love with all of them,” she said. “So, maybe there’s something to the concept, ‘well, we had chemistry’ or ‘we didn’t have chemistry.’”