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Fisher is a biological anthropologist, the chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match. Fisher, in other words, has spent a lot of time thinking about the role of sex and love in human life. So I reached out to her to find out what she has learned and how it undercuts a lot of our conventional ideas about sexuality and gender.
I also wanted to know what distinguishes love from attachment, and why she thinks there are three simple things you can to do maintain a happy relationship. We found that in almost all cases there was activity in a tiny little part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area or VTA. It turns out that this brain system makes dopamine, which is a natural stimulant, and then sends that stimulant to many other brain regions. And the experience of love, at the level of the brain, is different from the experience of sex or from feelings of attachment? The sex drive is largely orchestrated by testosterone in both men and women, but romantic love is orchestrated by the dopamine system.
I see romantic love as a basic drive that evolved millions of years ago to focus your mating energy on just one individual and start the mating process. The sex drive motivates you to look for a whole range of partners, but romantic love is about focusing your mating energy on one person at a time.
Ever wonder how your mind works? Watch The Mind, Explained, our 5-part miniseries on the workings of the brain. Available to stream now on Netflix. So being in love is like being hooked up to a perpetual dopamine drip, and you get a little hit every time you see the person or touch them or think about them? Dopamine drip — I love that phrase! You think about them all the time; you become sexually possessive; you get butterflies in the stomach; you can read their s and texts over and over again. So this part of the brain fires up in people who have recently fallen in love, and it really does function like an addiction.
That can push you over the threshold into falling in love. Those neurochemicals are linked with the attachment system in the brain. So casual sex is not casual: It can trigger these brain systems for romantic love and feelings of attachment.
A lot. I think we also got it wrong that women are not interested in sex. Among people under the age of 40, women are apparently just as adulterous as men. Men have more intimate conversations with their girlfriends and wives than women do with their husbands and boyfriends because women have their intimate conversations with their girlfriends, not necessarily with their man. Men are also 2. That is something that the press and the public really have wrong. Wait, men are 2. Do you have an explanation for that? All I have is a hypothesis.
Women appeal to their networks. But men do the job. I think some of this has to do with how differently men and women express their emotions. We tend to be more emotionally expressive. Men hide their emotions, probably because for millions of years it was not adaptive for men to express their frailty or their fear.
Their job was to protect the group. Their job was to protect the wife and family. Their job was to go out and kill very dangerous wild animals and bring home dinner. So men are better at containing their emotions, but they are also more predisposed to what we call emotional flooding. Unlike women, they hold their anger in, but eventually that anger builds up and explodes.
I have data on several hundred gay men and they fall in love just as often as straight men. As I mentioned, romantic love is a brain system like anger and fear, everyone has this brain system—regardless of to whom their romantic feelings are directed. But I have no data on whether gay men are just as likely to kill themselves when a relationship ends.
But it might exist. This basic brain physiology is only part of the experience. And surely basic brain circuitry is part of this. But this work of mine only explains how the brain generates the ecstatic, possessive, obsessive feelings of romantic love.
The same with love. There will always be magic to love.
People pine for love, live for love, kill for love and die for love. Everywhere in the world, people have love songs and love poems, and most places also have novels, TV series, ballets, operas, symphonies, myths, legends, and even holidays for love. What makes for a happy marriage or relationship? There are three brain regions that become active when you are in a longterm, loving relationship.
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