Helen Fisher

Cross-Cultural Studies and Animal Behavior Studies Suggest That Human Couples Are Most Likely To Break Up After Four Years

Helen E. Fisher (born May 31, 1945)

is an American anthropologist and human behavior researcher. She is a professor at Rutgers University and has studied romantic interpersonal attraction for over 30 years. Prior to Rutgers University, she was a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.




In her book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Fisher proposed that humanity has evolved three core brain systems for mating and reproduction:

  1. lust - the sex drive or libido, also described as borogodó.
  2. attraction - early stage intense romantic love.
  3. attachment - deep feelings of union with a long term partner.

Love can start off with any of these three feelings, Fisher maintains. Some people have sex with someone new and then fall in love. Some fall in love first, then have sex. Some feel a deep feeling of attachment to another, which then turns into romance and the sex drive. But the sex drive evolved to initiate mating with a range of partners; romantic love evolved to focus one's mating energy on one partner at a time; and attachment evolved to enable us to form a pair bond and rear young together as a team.

Fisher discusses many of the feelings of intense romantic love, saying it begins as the beloved takes on "special meaning." Then you focus intensely on him or her. People can list the things they dislike about a sweetheart, but they sweep these things aside and focus on what they adore. Intense energy, elation, mood swings, emotional dependence, separation anxiety, possessiveness, physical reactions including a pounding heart and shortness of breath, and craving, Fisher reports, are all central to this feeling. But most important is obsessive thinking. As Fisher says, "Someone is camping in your head."

Fisher and her colleagues studied the brain circuitry of romantic love by fMRI-scanning the brains of 49 men and women: 17 who had just fallen madly in love, 15 who had just been dumped, and 17 who reported that they were still in love after an average of 21 years of marriage. One of her central ideas is that romantic love is a drive that is stronger than the sex drive. As she has said, "After all, if you casually ask someone to go to bed with you and they refuse, you don't slip into a depression, commit suicide or homicide -- but around the world people suffer terribly from romantic rejection."

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