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Biology of Love: Brain Chemistry and Relationships


Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who studies love, romance & personality and the chief scientific advisor at Match.com. She has written two books, books Anatomy of Love and Why We Love that look at the biology of who we choose to fall in love with. Recently, her Ted talk and NPR interview have given me some food for thought. I wanted to share some of what I have learned with you.

The biology of attraction & love

There are a number of social, economic, and psychological forces that work together to determine how we choose a mate, but what Fisher researches are the biological factors. In other words, she looks at temperament, traits which are heritable and linked to specific genes, hormones and/or neurotransmitter systems. Many people have wondered, over the centuries, what kind of magical force inspires human love. Biologically speaking, it simply comes down to chemicals. What goes on in the brain when we are in love? There are four primary chemicals that are released: serotonin, dopamine, estrogen, testosterone.  

Chemical personality types that determine romantic preference 

Using website, Chemistry.com (a division of Match.com), Fisher has developed a series of 56 questions called the Fisher Temperament Inventory designed  to collect data from a wide variety of respondents. Using the data collected from millions of individuals (thousands each month),  Fischer has been able to uncover 4 broad personality types based on dominance of these chemicals.  Although the actual chemicals are not measured, Fischer has built a series of questions designed to determine the levels of brain chemicals released in different people. After determining which type respondents are, she observes who individuals of each type choose to partner with. In her research, Fisher identifies 4 types of personality types based on typical neural systems.

Explorers. What Fisher refers to as a dopamine system. There individuals crave novelty and adventure. They are more susceptibility to boredom and tend toward impulsivity. Explorers have high energy and enthusiasm. Explores also tend to lack introspection.

Builders. This systems includes those with a serotonin system. Tendencies include sociability, lower anxiety, and more close friends. Builders tend to be cautious and observe social norms and rules, they also have respect for authority. They express self-control and conscientiousness.

Directors. These individuals have a testosterone system. They are  self confident and assertive. Directors pay acute attention to details and have deep, narrow interests. They also tend to be less socially aware, with poorer emotion recognition. Directors exhibit little eye contact and are less verbally fluent, and they also show less empathy. 

Negotiators. These individuals have an estrogen based system. They tend toward cooperation and holistic and long-term thinking. Negotiators are intuitive, empathetic and agreeable. Generosity and trust are also traits associated with these individuals. 

What is your type? Find out  here.
Want to take one of her love quizzes? Click here.

After identifying the types, Fisher further noted how types choose romantic partners. Basically, what she discovered can be broken down in a few sentences. Explorers like other explorers. Builders like other builders. Directors and Negotiators tend to like their opposites. Less magical, perhaps, than one might hope, but incredibly fascinating information. A final noteworthy bit of Helen Fisher’s research demonstrates that when you suffer heartbreak, the chemicals in your brain actually match the intensity of the chemicals you express when you are in love. The motivation and craving for the object of affection actually grow more active and the intensity greater when you are unable to get what you want. Fisher is likely to continue this research, and there are many other open questions to be answered. For now, the realization that there is a strong chemical component to love might make navigating the murky waters of romance a little clearer. 

If this post interested you, listen to Helen Fisher’s Ted Radio Hour episode: What Happens To Our Brain When We're In Love?

Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to further discuss the relationships in your life. I am available to young professionals and emerging adults who are ready to overcome their challenges on a quest to transform their lives!  My website it full of blog entries and useful content to help you along your way, and I hope you find this free content useful on your journey. Feel free to reach out to me directly if have any questions or if you are interested in scheduling a private session.

Dr. Eileen Wynne
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