Helen Fisher, PhD

Broken Hearts: The Nature and Risks of Romantic Rejection

Fisher, H (2006)Romance and Sex in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: Risks and Opportunities. A Booth and C Crouter (Eds). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates “Oh, tell me the truth about love,” poet W. H. Auden wrote. Poems, dramas, novels, songs, stories, myths, legends, and men and women around the world have attempted to describe love. […]Read More

Lost Love: The Nature of romantic rejection

Fisher, H (2006)Cut Loose: (mostly) midlife and older women on the end of (mostly) long-term relaionships. Nan Bauer-Maglin (Ed.) New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. “Parting is all we need to know of hell.”—Emily Dickinson “Fires run through my body—the pain of loving you. Pain runs through my body with the fires of my love for […]Read More

The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection

Fisher, H (2006)The New Psychology of Love, 2nd Edition. RJ Sternberg and K Weis (Eds.) New Haven: Yale University Press “Since the heaven and earth were created, you were made for me and I was made for you and I will not let you go,” declared Chang Po to his beloved Meilan (Yutang, 1954, p. […]Read More
Helen speaking at rand minds conference

Some Thoughts on the Neurobiology of Stalking

J Reid Meloy and H Fisher (2005)Journal of Forensic Sciences, 50#6:1472-1480 The authors examine the crime of stalking, including the cognitive traits, emotional reactions, attachment pathology, violence patterns and sex differences of samples of stalking offenders. They focus on two common types of stalkers: 1) those who sustain pursuit of a former sexual intimate who […]Read More

Romantic Love: An fMRI Study of a Neural Mechanism for Mate Choice

H. Fisher, A Aron and LL Brown (2005)Journal of Comparative Neurology, 493:58-62. Scientists have described myriad traits in mammalian and avian species that evolved to attract mates. But the brain mechanisms by which conspecifics become attracted to these traits is largely unknown. Yet mammals and birds express mate preferences and make mate choices, and data […]Read More

The Neural Mechanisms of Mate Choice: A Hypothesis

Scientists have described many physical and behavioral traits in avian and mammalian species that evolved to attract mates. But the brain mechanisms by which conspecifics become attracted to these traits i unknown This paper maintains that two aspects of mate choice evolved in tandem: 1) traits that evolved in the "display producer" to attract mates and, 2) corresponding neural mechanisms in the "display chooser" that enable them to become attracted to these display traits. Then it discusses our (in-progress) fMRI brain scanning project on human romantic attraction, what we believe is a developed form of "courtship attraction" common to avian and mammalian species as well as the primary neural mechanism underlying avian and mammalian mate choice. The paper hypothesizes that courtship attraction is associated with elevated levels of central dopamine and norepinephine and decreased levels of central serotonin in reward pathways of the brain. It also proposes that courtship attraction is part of a triune brain system for mating, reproduction and parenting. Read More

Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction and Attachment

Mammals and birds have evolved three primary, discrete, iterrelated emotion-motivation systems in the brain for mating, reproduction, and parenting: lust, attraction, and male-female attachment. Each emotion-motivation system is associated with a specific constellation of neural correlates and a distinct behavioral repertoire. Lust evolved to initate the mating process with any appropriate partner; attraction evolved to enable individuals to choose among and prefer specific mating partners, thereby conserving their mating time and energy; male-female attachement evolved to enaele individuals to cooperate with a reproductive mate until species-specific parental duties have been completed. The evolution of these three emotion-motivation systems contribute to contemporary patterns of marriage, adultery, divorce, remarriage, stalking, homicide and other crimes of passion, and clinical depression due to romantic rejection. This article defines these three emotion-motivation systems. Then it discusses an ongoing project using functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain to investigate the neural circuits associated with one of these emotion-motivation systems, romantic attraction. Read More
Helen in Rome

The Sex Slave Trade: Biological Imperatives, Cultural Trends and the Coming Empowerment of Women

The sex slave trade has been in existence for at least two thousand years. In the sixth century A.D. the Roman emperor Justinian wrote of this phenomenon saying that profiteers throughout Europe were taking advantage of inexperienced girls — seducing them with fine clothes, money and promises of marriage, then placing them in brothels and focing them to sign contracts to remain there for a period of time. Read More

Lust, Attraction, and Attachment in Mammalian Reproduction

This paper proposes that mammals exhibit three primary emotion categories for mating and reproduction: (1) the sex drive, or lust, characterized by the craving for sexual gratification; (2) attraction, characterized by increased energy and focused attention on one or more potential mates, accompanied in humans by feelings of exhilaration, "intrusive thinking" about a mate, and the craving for emotional union with this mate or potential mate; and (3) attachment, characterized by the maintenance of close social contact in mammals, accompanied in humans by feelings of calm, comfort, and emotional union with a mate. Each emotion category is associated with a discrete constellation of neural correlates, and each evolved to direct a specific aspect of reproduction. The sex drive is associated primarily with the estrogens and androgens; it evolved to motivate individuals to focus their mating effort on preferred partners. The attachment system is associated primarily with the peptides, vasopressin, and oxytocin; it evolved to motivate individuals to engage in positive social behaviors and assume species-specific parental duties. Read More

The Nature of Romantic Love

Romantic love (characterized by at least two emotional stages, attraction and attachment) is a cultural universal. I propose that the human neurophysiology for these emotions evolved in our first hominid forebears some 4 million years ago as chemical mechanisms designed to initiate affiliation and sustain ancestral pair bonds through the infancy of a single altricial (helpless) child, a period of about four years. Serial monogamy during reproductive years has had adaptive advantages throughout human evolution, and natural selection has resulted in primary human mating behaviors that are still visible in worldwide patterns of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, as well as in the characteristic ebb and flow of human romantic love. Read More