Helen Fisher, PhD
Helen with MRI

Mating in the Digital Age

cover image of the Oxford Handbook of Human Mating
Charles Darwin identified two basic forms of sexual selection: intrasexual selection, in which members of the same sex of a species evolved biobehavioral mechanisms to compete with one another to win mating opportunities with the opposite sex—male–male competition and female–female competition —and intersexual selection in which members of each sex of a species evolved biobehavioral mechanisms to attract members of the opposite sex for the purpose of mating—mate choice. Miller proposed that two aspects of mate choice have evolved in tandem: (1) traits of the display producer that evolved to attract mating partners and (2) traits of the display chooser that evolved to discriminate between specic courtship displays and prefer those of specic display producers. Fisher has proposed that a third mechanism evolved in tandem with hominin mate choice: the brain system for romantic love.Read More

Lust, Romance, Attachment: Do the Side Effects of Serotonin-Enhancing Antidepressants Jeopardize Romantic Love, Marriage & Fertility?

Today millions of people take serotonin-enhancing antidepressants. These medications cause emotional blunting and dysfunction in sexual desire, arousal and orgasm in both men and women. We propose that these antidepressants have other side effects, due to their impact on several related neural mechanisms. Homo sapiens has evolved three distinct brain systems for courtship, reproduction and parenting. The sex drive evolved to motivate men and women to initiate sexual contact with a range of partners; romantic love evolved to motivate them to focus their courtship energy on specific individuals, thereby conserving mating time and energy; partner attachment evolved to motivate our forebears to maintain a stable mateship long enough to rear a child through infancy together. Studies using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) indicate that romantic love is associated with dopaminergic pathways in the brain’s reward system, pathways that are suppressed by elevated central serotonin. Hence we hypothesize that serotonin-enhancing antidepressants can jeopardize one’s ability to fall in love. Due to their impact on the sex drive, these medications can also jeopardize other brain/body mechanisms that enhance mate assessment, mate choice, pair formation and partner attachment. This paper discusses the biological relationships between the sex drive, romantic love and attachment, as well as other evolved reproductive mechanisms, to illustrate how serotonin-enhancing antidepressants can jeopardize feelings of romance, attachment and fertility. Read More

Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other

Review Article Front. Psychol., 10 May 2016 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00687 Individuals in the early stage of intense romantic love show many symptoms of substance and non-substance or behavioral addictions, including euphoria, craving, tolerance, emotional and physical dependence, withdrawal and relapse. We have proposed that romantic love is a natural (and often positive) addiction that evolved from mammalian antecedents by 4 million years ago as a survival mechanism to encourage hominin pair-bonding and reproduction, seen cross-culturally today in Homo sapiens. Brain scanning studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging support this view: feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s “reward system,” specifically dopamine-rich regions, including the ventral tegmental area, also activated during drug and/or behavioral addiction. Read More
Helen with Homo Erectus

Four broad temperament dimensions: description, convergent validation correlations, and comparison with the Big Five

Original Research Article
Front. Psychol., 03 August 2015 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01098

Helen E. Fisher, Heide D. Island, Jonathan Rich, Daniel Marchalik, and Lucy L. Brown

A new temperament construct based on recent brain physiology literature has been investigated using the Fisher Temperament Inventory (FTI). Four collections of behaviors emerged, each associated with a specific neural system: the dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen/oxytocin system. These four temperament suites have been designated: (1) Curious/Energetic, (2) Cautious/Social Norm Compliant, (3) Analytical/Tough-minded, and (4) Prosocial/Empathetic temperament dimensions. Two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have suggested that the FTI can measure the influence of these neural systems. In this paper, to further the behavioral validation and characterization of the four proposed temperament dimensions, we measured correlations with five variables: (1) gender; (2) level of education; (3) religious preference; (4) political orientation; (5) the degree to which an individual regards sex as essential to a successful relationship. 

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The Tyranny of Love: Love Addiction—an Anthropologist’s View

Laymen and scientists have long regarded romantic love as part of the supernatural, or as an invention of the Troubadours in 12th century France, or as the result of cultural tradition. However, current data collected using brain scanning (functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI) indicate that feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s “reward system,” specifically dopamine pathways associated with energy, focus, motivation, ecstasy and craving, including primary regions associated with addiction. Moreover, men and women who are passionately in love show all of the basic symptoms of addiction, including craving, tolerance, emotional and physical dependence, withdrawal and relapse.Read More

Neural Correlates of Four Broad Temperament Dimensions: Testing Predictions for a Novel Construct of Personality

Four suites of behavioral traits have been associated with four broad neural systems: the 1) dopamine and related norepinephrine system; 2) serotonin; 3) testosterone; 4) and estrogen and oxytocin system. A 56-item questionnaire, the Fisher Temperament Inventory (FTI), was developed to define four temperament dimensions associated with these behavioral traits and neural systems. The questionnaire has been used to suggest romantic partner compatibility. The dimensions were named: Curious/Energetic; Cautious/Social Norm Compliant; Analytical/Tough-minded; and Prosocial/Empathetic. Read More
Helen with Hadza

Generalized Brain Arousal Mechanisms and Other Biological, Environmental, and Psychological Mechanisms that Contribute to Libido

This theoretical essay proposes that underlying the concept of libido is a primitive set of brain mechanisms responsible for the generalized arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) and the activation of all behavioural responses. Having given the concept of ‘generalized CNS arousal’ an operational definition, we write an equation that describes how specific motivational needs are integrated with generalized arousal to produce an overall state of the CNS sufficient for potentiating behavioural responses. Factor analysis of behavioural data with mice suggest that among all CNS arousal-related influences, generalized arousal contributes about a third of the variance. Many neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, and genomic mechanisms for arousal are reviewed here. Highlighted are large reticular formation neurons in the medulla whose axons bifurcating rostrally and caudally equip them to contribute, respectively, both to cerebral cortical arousal and to autonomic arousal. Their rapid responses would cause sudden changes in CNS state associated with, for example, states of panic or rapid sexual attraction. Consequences of the actions of generalized arousal networks include increased alertness and attention that serve all cognitive functions and all emotional expression. Specifically with respect to psychoanalytic concepts these networks provide the psychic energy necessary for the expression of libido.Read More

Neural Correlates of Marital Satisfaction and Well-Being: Reward, Empathy, and Affect

Numerous studies suggest that marital satisfaction is associated with psychological and physical health. Using fMRI, the present study explored the neural correlates of marital satisfaction to investigate the physiological markers potentially mediating these health effects. Seventeen middle-aged individuals (M=52.85 years) in happy, stable, longterm, heterosexual pair-bonds (Mean length of marriage = 21.4 years) were scanned while viewing facial images of their spouses, as well as facial images of a familiar acquaintance and a close friend (to control for familiarity and social bonding). Participants’ marital satisfaction scores (assessed with the Relationship Assessment Scale; Hendrick 1988) were correlated with brain activity in response to all of these facial images. Greater marital satisfaction (after controlling for Passionate Love Scale scores) was positively correlated with activation in several neural regions, including the ventral tegmental area (reflecting reward and motivation); the orbitofrontal cortex (associated with the evaluation of rewards); the anterior insula (associated with empathy); the inferior frontal gyrus (associated with the mirror system), the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (associated with stress control); and the prefrontal cortex (associated with affective regulation). Read More

Serial Monogamy and Clandestine Adultery: Evolution and consequences of the dual human reproductive strategy

Considerable data suggest that Homo sapiens has evolved a dual reproductive strategy: life long and/or serial monogamy in conjunction with clandestine adultery (Fisher 1992). This paper explores the underlying biochemical and genetic mechanisms likely to contribute to this flexible, yet specific human reproductive system and explores some of the implications of this dual human reproductive strategy for contemporary partnerships.Read More