Sex, Love and Evolution - A Conversation with Dr. Helen Fisher

TH: As preparation for the interview, I took the test on chemistry.com. I found that I am a major explorer and a minor director.

HF: Oh, okay. Does that make sense?

TH: Yeah. I think the explorer does absolutely. I am actually dating someone who took the test and she is a… she is a negotiator/explorer. Is that a good match?

HF: That’s a very good combination. I am basically an explorer/negotiator or a negotiator/explorer depending on what day I take the test and the man I go out with is an explorer/director. And it's a very nice combination because the explorer in me and the explorer in him, we dash off and do everything. On Saturday, first we went to a movie in the late afternoon, then we went to a museum, and then we went to dinner. You know, I mean we are constantly just slipping off doing all kinds of things. That’s the two explorers, but in terms of the director and the negotiator, I’m much more compassionate, much more empathetic and ruminate much more and I can get caught in my ruminating and not make a decision. He is very decisive.

TH: I’m curious how do you decode this complex interaction of men and women (I guess it doesn’t have to be gender specific) or attraction in general? You go into detail about physical components of attraction in your earlier work…for example, in The Sex Contract with your description of the front of the body versus the back of the body.
This is such interesting and fertile area. What drove you to begin researching the topics? Was it your own dating experience or was it just like curiosity? What brought you into the arena of looking at the evolutionary component of why we love and other things like that?

HF: I wish I had a sexy answer for that. I remember as a small child I used to sit when I was seven and eight years old, we lived in a glass house, a modern house, and my neighbors lived in a glass house too and I used to sit in the woods on a stonewall by myself as a small girl and watch them make dinner. When I was a teenager, I would stare at everybody in the street. I wanted to follow them home and know everything about them…I just was very interested in people and psychology, which was my major in college didn’t really answer my questions. It was when in 1968 when I read Jane Goodall's book, In the Shadow of Man, and I saw that chimpanzees can be jealous and needy and appear almost in love with other individuals, I began to see the continuity between man and beast and it began to become clearer to me that my answers of human behavior would lie not in psychology, but would really lie in evolution and in understanding other species and ecology. Anthropology has a very broad, big look at human behavior, much larger than sociology or psychology or even economics. It includes all of those subjects actually; anthropos is mankind and ology is the study of, so, it's really the much broader view. So, I remember in college when a girlfriend of mine said, "You know… you know Helen, you would really like anthropology." So, I started taking courses in it and I ended up with a double major in college. I am interested in human nature also because I am an identical twin.

Tags: Animals | Ecology | Evolution | TH Interview