How does the brain drive us to fall in love?
Anthropologist Helen Fisher spoke at a TED conference in 2006, where she explained some key concepts involved in romantic love. The feelings and emotions that accompany romantic love may be a universal part of womanhood, but how do they drive our behaviour and relationship choices? How do they affect the way we feel about our partner? How strong a role does biology play in our choice of mate?
The three components of love
Fisher believes that the characteristic feeling of love is more of a drive than an emotion. In the same way we are driven to eat, have sex, or seek pleasure, we are driven to love the object of our affection.
In her talk, Fisher explained that romantic relationships function on three primary planes: sex drive, feelings of romantic love, and deep attachment. She described her theories of what each function each plane serves from an evolutionary perspective. The libido drives us to select from a wide pool of potential makes. Romantic feelings force us to narrow our gaze to one individual, and deep attachment allows us to stay connected to that individual after the initial feelings of love may have passed.
What does this mean for the future?
Fisher posits that these deeply held biological desires will function to reinforce partnerships in the 21st century. Fisher said that a combination factors, including the advancement of women in the workforce and the trend toward autonomous partnership selection, may help make marriages and partnerships more stable in coming years than at any other point in recent history. In fact, divorce is already on the decline in Australia, according to recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Fisher also added a note of caution. Antidepressant medications have major impacts on the body’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, both of which play important roles in the regulating of romantic drives and emotions.
One thing is for certain, says Fisher: Love is as old as humanity itself. It is an integral part of our brain chemistry, and is here to stay for the foreseeable future.