Sex, Love and Evolution - A Conversation with Dr. Helen Fisher
Photo by Rafael Fuchs
Dr. Helen Fisher is the love doctor of the 21st century. Her research is revealing why you are crushing on your co-worker to what kind of person you will attract if your index finger is longer than your ring finger. Think you know why you're in love with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Think they are your soul mate? You should read her new earth-shaking book Why Him? Why Her? before you go to the next level. Still trying to figure out why you can't get any action from the opposite sex (or same sex, depending on how you swing)? It might be that you don't have enough dopamine in your system.
Dr. Fisher has made a career of digging into the most intimate parts of human nature and finding the most natural of reasons from everything from divorce to sex appeal...evolution. And she's quantified it so you can take a test to find out how perfect or imperfect your special someone really is! I had a chance to talk shop with Ms. Love Doctor a couple of weeks ago, and I can now say with confidence, brains are incredibly sexy!
Treehugger (TH): In your new book, Why Him? Why Her?, you define four personality type and write about how they interact within romantic relationships to either help a couple stay together or not. How did you come about discovering these four different types?
Helen Fisher (HF): When match.com came to me and asked me why do you fall in love with one person rather than another and I said, at the time, I don't know. I did know some sociological reasons people tend to fall in love — same socioeconomic background, same general level of intelligence, same level of good looks, same religious and social values; your childhood plays a role, but we really don't know how. It could be that you fall for somebody like your mother or your father, but there is no proof of it. They wanted me to create a new dating site for them. I came home, sat down and thought about what I knew about personality. I pulled out a sheet of paper and I wrote on top of it — DOPAMINE, because I do study dopamine in the brain. I wrote down the characteristics associated with dopamine. I then wrote down the different genes and activities in the dopamine system such as risk tasking, novelty seeking, curiosity, creativity, spontaneity, impulsivity, generosity, irreverence, liberalness, flexibility, etc. Then I pulled out another sheet of paper and wrote SEROTONIN because I've studied serotonin. Then I listed the traits associated with the serotonin system. The people who are expressive of serotonin tend to be traditional, conventional, cautious, but not fearful, calm, social, often very popular, build and work on a whole network of friends, managerial, they are very good at managing people because they are pillars of society. They are conscientious, very loyal, and often religious, but not always. I had written a book on testosterone and estrogen, so I knew a great deal about those two brain systems. I wrote the characteristics associated with them and I looked at those four things and I said to myself, "I wonder if you can create a questionnaire to see to what degree people express these four basic systems and then what's on an Internet dating site, who is drawn to who? Maybe you could find some of nature's patterns of mate choice."
TH: And the four characteristics are the Explorer, the Builder, the Negotiator and the Director?
HF: Yeah, and so I sat there with my four sheets of paper and thought because I am working in the real world and they need names. Other people have noticed these four types too, Hippocrates noticed them with the four humors, Plato mentioned several of them, Aristotle mentioned all of them, Galen in the second century mentioned them, and Myers and Briggs is actually measuring these four types although I don't think they quite know that. What I have really done is I have added biology to them and then I have watched how they are drawn to each other.