Why Him? Why Her?
Carte Blanche had an interesting story last night about love. According to Helen Fisher Love is actually a chemical reaction in the brain. She wrote a book called Why Him? Why Her? on this matter. What intrigued me is that she has a test to determine what personality you have and what you should look for in a partner. My Wife and I both did the test and she was spot on. You can do the test by visiting this link:
If you are in South Africa you should use an American postal code like 90001 to get access.
Here is the story by Carte Blanche:
This is Francois and Nadia Marais from Pretoria. They have been married for just a few moths and are very much in love.
Francois Marais: ‘I can’t imagine my life without Nadia. She is the person I wake up for every day.’
Nadia Marais: ‘Francois means the world to me.’
Ah!… the wonder of young love…
Last year we brought you a story where a professor in America, after extensive experiments with rodents called voles, had announced that enduring love is actually nothing more than the result of a chemical process in the brain that brings on a kind of addiction to another human being.
Dr Helen Fisher, a world renowned biological anthropologist who specialises in romantic love and brain chemistry, agrees that love is indeed a kind of chemical addiction.
Dr Helen Fisher (Rutgers University, New York): ‘Romantic love is an incredibly positive addiction when it is going well and a particularly negative addiction when it is going horribly. People live for love; they die for love; they kill for love.’
Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): ‘Dr Fisher is convinced that human romantic behaviour is regulated by chemical processes that take place right here in the human brain. She has a new book out called ‘Why Him? Why Her?’ in which she explores the role of brain chemistry in our choice of romantic partner.
Dr Fisher: ‘There’s chemistry when we do anything, but the chemistry of love is powerful. It is all these subtle chemical systems being triggered as well as all kinds of cognitive processings.’
According to Helen, Francois has fallen for Nadia big time, but not for her roommate or her sister, because of the interaction of molecules somewhere in his brain.
Our affinity for another person is determined by the way certain genes are expressed within one of four brain chemical systems. These systems are the result of the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.
Helen looked at four brain chemical systems: the dopamine, the serotonin, the testosterone and the oestrogen systems.
We all have these systems but, because of our genetic make-up, our personalities are dominated by one of these four chemical systems.
The result is four basic personality types, says Helen. A dopamine related personality she calls an ‘Explorer’ type. Serotonin gives rise to what she calls a ‘Builder’; testosterone gives rise to the ‘Director’ personality type and Estrogen to the ‘Negotiator’ type.
And this chemically determined personality in turn has a huge influence on our choice in mate.
Dr Fisher: ‘If you are very expressive of dopamine, I call your type ‘Explorer’. These people tend to be novelty seeking, risk-tasking, spontaneous, impulsive, curious, creative and they are drawn to people like themselves.’
If you have certain genes that are expressed in the serotonin system, your personality is coloured by that.
Dr Fisher: ‘If you are the traditional type, expressive of serotonin, this is what I call the ‘Builder’. They’re traditional, cautious but not fearful. They’re calm, they’re social, they’re loyal, they’re conscientious. They are also drawn to people like themselves. They tend to be more religious, more conservative. They want somebody that is going to be equally interested in family, in building social networks – these are the pillars of society.’
Bongani: ‘In her book Helen has a questionnaire which can be filled out to see what chemistry is going on in your brain, what kind of personality type you have. We decided to put Helen’s theory to the test and see if people who can be termed ‘Explorers’ or ‘Builders’ really choose people who are pretty much like themselves.’
In terms of Helen’s theory and questionnaire, both Francois and Nadia are ‘Explorers’. We asked them about their likes and dislikes.
Francois: ‘I think one of the first things that attracted me about Nadia was her sense of adventurousness. We love doing things together. We love cycling together; we love running together; we love planning holidays – adrenaline stuff – together… so all of that was hugely important when we first met. When I found that out, I knew that this is the one that I had been looking for.’
François and Nadia are undoubtedly ‘Explorers’. They are dopamine driven. It is clear that they are attracted to each other because they are so very similar.
Dr Fisher: ‘But in the other two cases, opposites attract.’
The other two personality types she identified are aligned to the testosterone and oestrogen chemical systems. They are the ‘Directors’ and the ‘Negotiators’.
Dr Fisher: ‘Testosterone goes for oestrogen and oestrogen goes for testosterone. I think a good example in the United States is Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. I think she is very high testosterone, which women can be, as well as men.’
She calls the testosterone related personality type the ‘Director’.
Dr Fisher: ‘These people are analytical, logical, tough-minded, exacting, and decisive. Also very good at what we call woo-based systems; very focussed. And they are drawn to the ‘Negotiator’ – the high oestrogen type. These people are very emotionally expressive, altruistic, idealistic, they see the big picture, they have a synthesising mind. They are intuitive, they’ve got very good people skills, good verbal skills – the whole world knows that Bill Clinton can’t stop talking, knows that he feels your pain, cries for everybody, and, sure enough, he is attracted to Hillary who is tough, and vice versa.’
Helen says it is important in romantic relationships to know what your personality type is.
Dr Fisher: ‘I do think that by knowing more of the biology of who you are, and why you are drawn to certain kinds of people, you can also reach your partner. For example, I have come to think that these four types really define intimacy differently. And once you know how somebody else defines intimacy, you can reach them on their level. And I once asked my boyfriend, who is very much the ‘Explorer’ type, ‘What is intimacy to you?’ And he said, ‘It’s doing things with you.’ That is not intimacy to me. As a ‘Negotiator’, intimacy to me is asking you how you feel, what you are thinking, what you meant by that – so as to get in under your skin, and understanding who you are. To him, that’s an invasion. So he is giving me intimacy – it’s not my intimacy – but I have to realise he is giving it to me. And once you begin to know who you are and how you define intimacy and what you are looking for and what your talents are and what your weak points are, you can understand who is giving you what, when , how, why and how you can give back.’
Helen says her work confirms what a number of theories and models of personality types have indicated over the years.
Dr Fisher: ‘In China they talk about Air, Earth, Water and Fire. I would guess that if I went to all kinds of other cultures, I would find that people have defined personality styles in much the same way I have. What I have added is the biology to them – the fact that they are ‘real’.’
Helen’s theories on human romantic behaviour and brain chemistry is based on clinical work with brain scans, but it’s also based on extensive empirical research on ‘real’ people.
Dr Fisher: ‘Scientists have always regarded 500 people as a big sample. Well, I don’t want to do anything less than 20 000.’
She was able to work with such large samples because as part of her research she collaborated with two dating websites on the Internet. The one is Chemistry.com and the other Match.com with more than 15 million members.
Dr Fisher: ‘I came up with the idea that if I created a questionnaire to see to what degree you express dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and oestrogen, and then watch who was drawn to whom, I might come closer to understanding mate choice – a powerful part of who we are. And all along the way I could see these enormous samples. I did one sample of 178 000 people to see which words these four types use. It’s just an enormous pool for understanding behaviour.’
Bongani: ‘So, according to Helen, brain chemistry determines personality types and this explains why people have a romantic attraction to certain individuals and not to others. But there is also another mating activity people engage in, which helps them to choose a particular partner and which is also responsible for a hive of chemical activity in the brain. It’s kissing.’
Dr Fisher: ‘It is becoming clear to me that kissing can trigger any one or all three basic brain systems: the sex drive, romantic love and feelings of deep attachment, because you are giving off so much information about who you are and collecting so much information about the other person. For example, we now know that there is a good deal of testosterone in saliva and also traces of oestrogen. And men tend to like sloppier kisses with more open mouths and more tongue action, and they also regard kissing as most important in the beginning of a relationship. And my hypothesis is what they are trying to do is transfer their testosterone into the woman’s mouth so that they can try to trigger brain systems for the sex drive. They may also be trying to pick up traces of oestrogen in her saliva and thus unconsciously judging whether she is fertile.’
But kissing also triggers the release of another extremely potent neurotransmitter.
Dr Fisher: ‘Kissing can trigger the brain system for romantic love because everything that you do that is novel drives up dopamine in the brain. And that is associated with romantic love. And when you start to kiss a new person you have an overwhelming amount of new data that you are collecting. Much of the brain is simply designed to collect data from the lips and the tongue and the cheeks and the nose.’
Dopamine is released deep inside the brain in a tiny area called the ventral tegmental area.
Dr Fisher: ‘So when you fall in love with somebody, it’s probably dopamine. Dopamine gives you that focus, even the possessiveness, the motivation to win this person, the intense energy and the elation. So you look at somebody and it triggers that brain system and boom! you are off on a journey that could last a lifetime.’
Kissing not only has an effect on those who are newly in love. It also affects long term relationships.
Dr Fisher: ‘And there are now new studies that when people in a long term relationship kiss, it drives up oxytocin in the male, and probably we’ll find out in the female also. And oxytocin is associated with feelings of deep attachment.’
So kissing can enhance the sex drive, it can trigger feelings of romantic love and in long term relationships it can bring about feelings of deep attachment.
Dr Fisher: ‘Kissing is not just kissing. As a matter of fact, it can be the kiss of death – in over 50% of individuals in one study reported that they were actually attracted to somebody and, after the first kiss, never again.’
But if one knows so much about the chemistry of love, does that not diminish the wonder of love?
Dr Fisher: ‘All of my studies will never take the wonder out of love – not for me or for anybody else. You know, you can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake, and still sit down and eat that cake, and feel the joy. And it is the same for me. If anything, my studies of romantic love have expanded my empathy for everybody in the world. I look in baby carriages now and say, ‘Boy, are you in for a ride!’
And Francois and Nadia believe that they are indeed in for the ride of a lifetime.
Francois: ‘This is definitely for keeps – it is a long term commitment. And it is one that I look forward to – definitely.’
Nadia: ‘Yes – forever. This is forever.’
So, what Francois and Nadia are expressing in their loving behaviour is the result of chemical processes and information that the brain is able to collect from these processes.
Dr Fisher: ‘The brain is very good at collecting data about love, because it is the most important thing we do.’