Helen Fisher (anthropologist)
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|Helen E. Fisher|
|Alma mater||University of Colorado|
|Known for||The First Sex, interpersonal attraction studies|
Helen E. Fisher (born 1947) is an American anthropologist and human behavior researcher. She is a professor at Rutgers University and has studied romantic interpersonal attraction for over thirty years. Prior to becoming a research professor at Rutgers University, she was a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Dr. Fisher earned a BA in Anthropology and Psychology from New York University in 1968; an MA in Physical Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistics, and Archeology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1972, and a PhD in Physical Anthropology: Human Evolution, Primatology, Human Sexual Behavior, and Reproductive Strategies from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1975.
Dr. Fisher is a leading expert on the biology of love and attraction. She is currently the most referenced scholar in the love research community. In 2005 she was hired by match.com to help build chemistry.com, which used her research and experience to create both hormone-based and personality-based matching systems. She was one of the main speakers at the 2006 and 2008 TED conference. On January 30, 2009, she was featured in an ABC News 20/20 special, Why Him? Why Her? The Science of Seduction, where she discussed her most recent research on brain chemistry and romantic love.
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:
- lust - the sex drive or libido, also described as borogodó.
- attraction - early stage intense romantic love.
- 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 have put 49 men and women into a brain scanner to study the brain circuitry of romantic love: 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."
Fisher also maintains that taking certain antidepressants can potentially dampen feelings of romantic love and attachment (as well as the sex drive).
From data on fMRI brain scanning of men and women who had just fallen madly in love, published in 2004, Rutgers University biological anthropologist Helen Fisher discussed some differences in these male and female brains. Men, on average, tended to show more activity in a brain region associated with the integration of visual stimuli; while women showed more activity in several brain regions linked with memory recall. Fisher hypothesizes that these differences stem from differing evolutionary forces governing mate choice. In prehistory (and today), a male was obliged to size up a potential female partner visually to ensure that he chose a healthy age-appropriate partner to bear and rear his forthcoming babies. But an ancestral female couldn’t look at a male and know whether he would be a good husband and father; she had to remember his past behaviors, achievements and misadventures--memories which could help her select an effective husband and father for her forthcoming young.
In 2006, her MRI research, which showed that the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus become active when people are in love, was featured in the (February) National Geographic cover-page article "Love - the Chemical Reaction".
Four broad personality styles
Fisher distinguishes between four broad biologically-based styles of thinking and behaving which she associates with four broad neurochemical systems . Fisher emphasizes that these are not “types” and that we are all a unique combination of all of them.
The corresponding Platonic thinking style, Keirsey temperament type (according to some readers, not Fisher herself), and color can be seen in parenthesis.
- Explorer (creative; Artisan temperament, yellow) = dopamine
- Builder (sensible; Guardian temperament, blue) = serotonin
- Director (reasoning; Rational temperament; red) = testosterone
- Negotiator (intuitive; Idealist temperament; green) = estrogen/oxytocin
In one of Fisher’s recent studies of 100,000 anonymous individuals on Chemistry.com, a subsidiary of the Internet dating site Match.com, she reports that “no two individuals answered her 56-statement questionnaire exactly the same way." As she has said, “I'm not surprised; I have never met two people who are alike. But there are patterns to nature and there are patterns to personality, and even in this varied group all four broad basic personality styles prevailed—albeit in myriad combinations."
Fisher proposes that there are two basic aspects of human personality: traits that emerge with childhood and other cultural experiences; and biologically based traits of temperament (some 50% of who we are). Moreover, an understanding of human temperament could improve our business and social interactions, including composing more effective corporate boards and business teams, more efficient hiring and job placements, better advertising and client relations, and more effective communication with colleagues, friends, parents, children and lovers.
- Keirsey Temperament Sorter
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- Pepper Schwartz
- Neil Clark Warren
- Fry, Rae (1999). Health Report – Biology of Love – National Radio
- Fisher, Helen (2006). The Biology and Evolution of Romantic Love - Stony Brook Mind/Brain Lecture Series, 10th Annual Lecture, March 27.
- The Science of Love – BBC News, Nov, 18 (2004).
- Doctor of Love - flatrock.org
- Video of Helen Fisher's talk on gender, sex and love at the TED Conference. Presented February 2006 in Monterey, CA. Duration 23:39
- Link to ABC News 20/20 site to read overview and watch the special
- Fisher, Helen (2004). Why We Love – the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6913-5.
- Fisher, Helen (1983). The Sex Contract – the Evolution of Human Behavior. Quill. ISBN 0-688-01599-9.
- Fisher, Helen (1993). Anatomy of Love – a Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray. Quill. ISBN 0-449-90897-6.
- Fisher, Helen (1999). The First Sex – the Natural Talents of Women and How They are Changing the World. Random House. ISBN 0-679-44909-4.
- Fisher, Helen (2004). Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7796-0.
- Fisher, Helen (2009). Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type. Henry Holt USA-Canada. ISBN 0-8050-8292-1.
- Fisher, Helen (2009). Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type. Oneworld Publications UK-Commonwealth. ISBN 978-1-85168-698-8.
- Helen Fisher - University Faculty Page Rutgers University
- Find Out Why We're Addicted to Love The Science Network interview with Helen Fisher
- Helen Fisher - Website
- Interview with Helen Fisher (2006) - about her role in the development of the pair-matching site Chemistry.com
- Helen Fisher Blog
- Helen Fisher Quotes
- Helen Fisher featured contributor at Man of the House
- TED Talks: Helen Fisher tells us why we love, cheat at TED 2006
- TED Talks: Helen Fisher studies the brain in love at TED 2008
- Helen Fisher's Biography