Live chat: science of love

Times Staff Writer

2007-08-06 13:04:02.0 Administrator2: Thank you for coming to the Science of Love chat with Dr. Helen Fisher and L.A. Times reporter Susan Brink!

2007-08-06 13:04:03.0 Susan Brink: I’m Susan Brink, health reporter with the LATimes. With me is Dr. Helen Fisher, evolutionary anthropologist who has done imaging research on the brain in love. We’re ready for your questions.

2007-08-06 13:04:43.0 swoody09: How will knowing that I’m a negotiator personality type on improve my chances of finding someone I’d want to have a relationship with versus meeting someone out in public?

2007-08-06 13:09:35.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hello swoody09. I have now studied the first 28,000 people on and who they naturally gravitate to. And the data clearly show that Negotiator types are attracted to Director types, individuals who are high on testosterone, people who are theoritical, like the negotiator, interested in a lot of things, like the Negotiator, but who add to the negotiator their ability to be decisive and direct, as well as ther abilitites to be highly analyhtical, logical and other qualities that the negotiator needs to round themselves out. so on I can use what I know of biology, (mother nature) to match you in ways that may give you a deeper, more satisfying long term relationship.

2007-08-06 13:10:00.0 kentb: How is the science of love different for peoplae as they age?

2007-08-06 13:12:14.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Well, there is a lot of science to love. for example the brain circuits for romantic love probably do not change with age. You can fall in love at any age. You can also feel deep attachment to a partner at any age. the sex drive seems to reduce for a lot of people, however. And asd we age we tend to look for people with the interests we have acquired as we age.

2007-08-06 13:12:27.0 Brad: I would like to know more about commitment phobia and what one can do to over come fears and anxiety towards commitments. What are the causes of commitment phobia and what can one do to treat it?

2007-08-06 13:15:11.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: HI Brad, this is a huge question that deserves a lot more time and space than I have here. But I will say that when you find the right person for you, you are likely to overcome it much quicker than you thought. We all have misgivings about signing up for long term commitments in an age when we live a long time, but when feelings of romantic love overcome you, you really can make a commitment quite fast. Good luck to you.

2007-08-06 13:15:30.0 Susan Brink: For my story, I found the bulk of research was done on young people. But researchers, Lucy Brown, Art Aron along with Helen Fisher are just starting up a study on older couples who have been together for a long time to help begin to answer the questions of if and how love changes over time.

2007-08-06 13:18:17.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: yes, Susan, we are just beginning and I am really excited about it. In one study of romantic love in long term marriages, researchers found that 25% of them said they were still “in love” with their long term partner. so this is entirely possible to do. I think one way to sustain romantic love in a long term attachement is to do novel things together, Novelty drives up dopamine in the brain and can help sustain that magic. Of course I also hope to match people correctly on so that we can not only spark that feeling but keep the romance percolating for years.

2007-08-06 13:18:48.0 Todd: Why do you think people fall out of love after long marriages?

2007-08-06 13:21:22.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: HI Todd, I think that the very early phase of intense romantic love was designed to dissipate, because this state is very metabolically expensive. it evolved to start the mating process, but we probably evolved to merge into feelings of attachment, a calmer state for raising babies. But if you pick the right person, you can probably keep some romance alive for years.

2007-08-06 13:21:39.0 swoody09: I was wondering what affect anti-depressant drugs have on your ability to both find a date and find a relationship.

2007-08-06 13:25:07.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Wonderful question. I and psychiatrist Andy Thomson have recently written an artice suggesting that when you take a serotonin booster, such as prozac or Zoloft, you can jeopardize your ability to fall in love. scientists know that elevated activity of serotonin suppresses the dopamine system in the brain. And dopamine is associated with feelings of romance. In fact, I have more and more people emailing me, reporting that when they started taking these drugs, they not only lost their sex drive,but also feelings of romance. the medical community needs to begin to realize that the brain systems affect eachother, I am not saying NOT to take these drugs. But we should realize that as you affect on brain system, you are also affecting others.

2007-08-06 13:25:38.0 Patricia A.: Has you research shown whether people tend to fall in love with similar personality types repeatedly? Or do their choices evolve?

2007-08-06 13:29:11.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Very interesting. No one knows the answer to this. We do know that people tend to fall in love wiht people who are similar in socio-economic background, similar religious values, similar level of education, intelligence and good looks. But that is all they know. I hope to study this myself. but my instinct is that if you are the Director type, for example, you will continue to seek people who complement your personality type. this is a complex question that deserves much more space. If you want to email me personally, please do.

2007-08-06 13:29:40.0 Lauren: I’ve heard that early negative experience with love can have a negative and lasting impact on one’s ability to form healthy love relationships. How true is this?

2007-08-06 13:32:37.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hi Lauren, I am not a psycholopgist, but an anthropologist. but from what I have read on this, some people are a lot more flexible than others are, so they get over these set backs. Others meet just the right person and heal slowly or rapicly. And others carry with them for ever thier early experiences. But the human brain is exceedingly flexible. And we were built to fall in love and formm attachments, so I would suspect that the vast majority of men and women get over their romantic disappointments (although we don’t tend to forget them) and move on.

2007-08-06 13:32:58.0 nepenthe: The previous answer to the question about taking drugs that affect our chemistry in our brains made me wonder: conversely, can there eventually be a drug that incites romantic feelings, however scary and unethical that it sounds.

2007-08-06 13:35:45.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: We already have drugs that can drive up dopamine in the brain, and these people who take them do not fall head over heels in love. there are many biological components to romantic love, but there are also many, many cultural components, including your childhood, your goals, the roles you want to play in the relationship, etc. so it is impossible to manipulate all ove these. People around the world have tried to make “love magic” pills, potions, etc. And none of them work.

2007-08-06 13:35:49.0 Patricia A.: What test do you use to determine one’s personality type - so that I may find out (surprise) what I am? :-)

2007-08-06 13:36:59.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hi Patricia. I designed this personality test and we use it on so you would need to go to that site to take the test. Please do, and let me know what you are!

2007-08-06 13:37:04.0 Todd: I took your test on (I’m a Builder/Negotiator) and would like to know what I can do to present myself better to the opposite sex?

2007-08-06 13:41:06.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Wonderful question. Builders have some great qualities. They tend to be conscientious, loyal, traditional, managerial, cautious but not fearful, and popular. But they don’t tend to do new things. So perhaps you should try to plan a bit less and be more spontaneous. A lot of women like the excitement of doing somethiing novel. Also, your negotiator skills should be very attractive to women, such as your abiltily to communicate, to read people and to express your compassion. Let them know this intuitive, altruistic side of you.

2007-08-06 13:41:19.0 Ruth: I have read several of Dr. Fisher’s books and took her test on My question you think men are more likely to cheat and are certain personalities more likely to cheat?

2007-08-06 13:43:38.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hi Ruth. thanks for reading my books. I have always wondered who all these men are cheating with, if not with women. so I am not inclined to think that men cheat more. but I do have data that the Explorer type is more likely to need variety, so they are more susceptible to cheating. And Directors have a very high sex drive, so they can have rockier relationships.

2007-08-06 13:44:04.0 Patricia A.: In your research, did you find it was harmful, helpful, or neutral to involve oneself with another person for physical enjoyment only? Was “love” a critical component to a healthy mental/physical experience? -- What do you think of suggestion I once read from an author that responded to a question from a husband because he said he did not love his wife any longer. The author (it seems like it was Thomas More in Care of the Soul, but I am not sure), said: “Then love your wife”

2007-08-06 13:47:44.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: HI Patricia, I will answer just the first part, about involving oneself with someone for physical enjoyment only. Foremost, I am not a moralist. And I firmly believe that sex is good for you. but causal sex generally isn’t very casual. any kind of sexual stimulation triggers dopamine in the brain and can put you over the threshold into falling in love. And wtih orgasm, you get a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin, associated with attachement. so you can fall in love or become deeply attached to someone when you least expect it.

2007-08-06 13:48:03.0 Michael O in NYC: hiya, just signing on, so not sure if this is covered already. if not: my sense about the science of love is that, well, love is love. i can’t imagine that it makes any difference whether one is gay or straight or... whatever. labels don’t match behaviors, as we know. is science researching this in the hetero context exclusively? there was a ref in the article to finding that one-in-a-million love of the opposite sex, so i kinda wondered.

2007-08-06 13:49:56.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: I am convinced that the brain system for romantic love is exactly the same in gays and straights. who you fall in love with will be different, but how you feel when you are in love will be the same. In short, falling in love is the same experience, no matter whether you are gay or straight, old or young, rich or poor, male or female, American or from the Australian Outback.

2007-08-06 13:51:23.0 atramer: Dr. Fisher, to Michael O’s point in his comment, he says, “Labels don’t match behaviors.” Let’s say this is the case, then how did you narrow down the labels to match behaviors in your personality-type deifinitions on Must have been a difficult task?

2007-08-06 13:52:45.0 Patricia A.: Thanks. So there are so many variables, depending on one’s physical condition, culture, economic class, etc. thanks!

2007-08-06 13:55:48.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hello atramer. Developing a new personality questionnaire is complex and very time comsuming. But in brief: I stuck to the fact. Scientists know a good deal about genetics these days. For example, we know that elevatged activity in the dopamine system is associated with novelty seeking and risk taking, with curiosity and with creativity. And it doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay, man or woman, pink or green, if you express dopamine you are more likely to express certain traits of temperament. so I have gathered a lot of data on genetics, and from personality questionnaires, and tested questions and put the myriad pieces together. And the more I read the more remarkable I think Mother Nature is. EAch of these types evolved for very important reasons.

2007-08-06 13:56:06.0 thall: Thanks for suggesting to take the test on, Just curious, what is the success rate matching on sites of this nature?

2007-08-06 13:59:33.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Well, I have been to my first wedding. and all over the offices we have photos of couples who have written in to tell us about their true love. I also know that 82% of people who write to us after a first date tell us that they want to go on a second date. But alas, a lot of people who find the right person simply leave the site (for good reasons) so I can’t give you exact numbers. But if you want more data, email me and I will introduce you to someone at Chemistry. who can give you more data.

2007-08-06 14:00:19.0 Liane : Dr. Fisher, are there any studies about the effect of technology and its relationship to “love” ?

2007-08-06 14:01:40.0 Administrator2: Dr. Fisher has about 10 more minutes to chat, so please submit your final questions, and we’ll get to as many as we can in the time remaining!

2007-08-06 14:02:21.0 Administrator2: If you tuned in mid-chat, you can read the full transcript at (it’ll be posted there in about an hour).

2007-08-06 14:02:41.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Hi Liane, I think there probably are, but I am not sure what kind of technology you mean. For example, when the automobile became available to a lot of people (I think in the 1930s-40s) there was a real increase in premarital sex. technology has to affect sex, romance and attachment in specific ways. But the bottom line is that people have probably been falling in love for some 4 million years. this won’t change.

2007-08-06 14:02:48.0 Lauren: What efffects if any, does long term use of oral contraceptives have on forming romantic lrelationships?

2007-08-06 14:03:31.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: INteresting. I haven’t studied this. But I believe it has been studied. If you find out, will you let me know!

2007-08-06 14:03:45.0 Michael O in NYC: thanks for the reply, dr. F. sorry if i confused anyone w/ my Q. after i hit ‘send,’ i realized i’d not qualified. it’s not that all labels don’t match, in my sense, sexiuabut i know, from experience, as we all probably do, that many people who use labels don’t always act in ways that conform to what the label implies. as in gay- and lesbian-identified people having sex, affairs, falling in love, with people of the opposite sex. [there’s that term again.] or straight-identified guys who play around with other guys, say.

2007-08-06 14:03:57.0 Patricia A.: If one is to be very mindful and aware of what they are choosing, how they are choosing it, perhaps why they are choosing it... this almost spoils the spontaneity of experience - however, I would think we would want to enter into love experiences with our eyes wide open. Do you think any other creatures have a romantic love concept comparable to our human one?

2007-08-06 14:06:26.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Yes, all animals feel attraction to some individuals and not to others. I write about “animal attraction” extensively in my book, “Why We Love.” but to your other question: You can know ever ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake and still sit down to eat it and feel that joy. so I don’t think that knowing a lot about romantic love,who you are seeking, or why you are choosing can ruin the spontaneity. At least it hasnt’ ruined it at all for me.

2007-08-06 14:07:14.0 Susan Brink: Thank you very much, Dr. Fisher, for your time and thoughtful answers. And thanks to all of you who joined in the chat.

2007-08-06 14:07:22.0 Liane : Thanks for taking the time to answer my “too general” question; I was forgetting about the days when the wheel or the spear were the new technology!

2007-08-06 14:07:51.0 Lauren: Thank you Dr. Fisher.

2007-08-06 14:08:02.0 Michael O in NYC: thanks for your time. great luck w/ your book

2007-08-06 14:08:09.0 Patricia A.: That’s good to know. But we don’t question the motives of the ingredients of cake. We question everything that we experience as humans, because we are a volatile bottle of chemicals. The chemistry of cake is pretty stable. :-)

2007-08-06 14:08:10.0 Dr. Helen Fisher: Thanks to all of you. this has been fun and interesting. And good luck in love....nature is on your side. Helen.