Helen Fisher, PhD


Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Right?   Wrong!  I have come to believe that we must do onto others and they would have done unto them.   But who are they?   This week, with the publication of our article in the journal, PLoS One (link below), I and my colleagues have taking a step toward understanding ourselves—and our future.   I’m over the moon about it.  

As you may know, I designed a questionnaire to measure the personality traits linked with four basic biological systems.   Those highly expressive of the traits linked with dopamine tend to seek novelty; they are also curious, creative, spontaneous, energetic, mentally flexible and enthusiastic, what I call the Explorer.   Those more expressive of the traits linked with the serotonin system tend to observe social norms instead, as well as follow rules, respect authority, stick to plans and habits, and be good with numbers: the Builder.  Meanwhile, those predominantly expressive of the traits linked with testosterone tend to be analytical, direct, decisive, tough-minded, and good at engineering, mechanics or other spatial/mathematical tasks: the Director.   Last, those particularly expressive of the estrogen system tend to see the big picture, as well as be imaginative, intuitive, good with people, linguistically skilled, empathetic and emotionally expressive: the Negotiator.  

But even though I meticulously studied thae scientific literature to collect the suite of traits linked with each of these four biological systems, then carefully assembled these traits into a questionnaire, and have now collected questionnaire data on some 13 million members of Match.com and Chemistry.com, I needed to prove to other scientists that my questionnaire actually measured these four biological systems.  So with my brain-scanning partner, Dr. Lucy Brown and other colleagues, I gave my questionnaire to 18 newlyweds and 17 long-married people; then we put them in the brain scanner. 

When the results came in, I felt like jumping in the sky.   Those who scored high on my proposed dopamine scale showed more activity in a major dopamine pathway.  Those who scored high on my proposed serotonin scale showed more activity in a little factory linked with “social norm conformity.”   Those scoring high on my proposed testosterone scale showed more activity in brain regions linked with mathematical talent and visual acuity, brain areas primarily built by testosterone.  Last, those who scored high on my proposed estrogen scale showed more activity in brain regions linked with empathy.  Almost perfect!  And we got the same results in both studies.  

Rarely in a scientist’s life does one stumble onto one of nature’s blueprints—in this case, some of the fundamental structure of human personality.   And the more we learn about these four biologically-based styles of thinking and behaving, the more we will come to understand how to make compatible, rewarding, long term partnerships, build better work teams and sports teams, and create better relationships between teachers and students, parents and children, doctors and patients, even political leaders.  As the blueprint of the mind unfolds, we can (naturally) reach those we love.  

OUR PAPER: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0078734