Dr Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who has spent years studying the science of falling in love. She is the author of Why Him? Why Her? (Oneworld, £9.99)
Psychologies: What are the perfect conditions for falling in love?
Dr Helen Fisher: We often fall in love during a time of huge transition, whether we’ve just got a new job, been made redundant or moved to a new city. Dangerous times also prime the brain for love. During the current economic crisis, people will go back to basics, and the need for love is a basic drive. But there are no hard and fast rules. I’m just trying to slot together one piece of the puzzle.
Why do we fall for one person over another?
We can walk into a room where everyone is from the same background, has a similar level of intelligence, education and physical attractiveness and we don’t fall in love with all of them because we don’t have chemistry with all of them. What do you mean by chemistry? Through my research, I’ve seen that there were four basic personality types, based on whether we expressed high levels of dopamine, serotonin, testosterone or oestrogen. After reviewing 28,000 responses from my questionnaire, I discovered that our genetic make-up naturally draws us to certain kinds of people.
What are the four personality types you identified?
The people I call Explorers have high levels of dopamine and as a result are novelty seeking and creative. I initially thought these people would go for Builders, who are stable and family-oriented, but I was wrong. Our study showed that Explorers were seeking someone like themselves. Builders, who are led by serotonin, were looking for a helpmate — another Builder. These couples make solid marriages. But the theory that opposites attract does bear out if you are a Director or a Negotiator. These types gravitate towards one another. While Directors are competitive and decisive — due to high levels of testosterone — Negotiators have a lot of oestrogen, which makes them nurturing and compassionate. Bill Clinton is a perfect example of a Negotiator. He is expressive and skilled with words, while Hillary is an obvious Director.
Will understanding our partner’s biological type improve our relationship?
The real power lies in having a clearer idea of what drives people, why they behave in a certain way.
If we are looking to settle down, should we seek out a Builder?
You might not naturally be drawn to this type, but perhaps life experiences have led you to make the conscious decision to find someone reliable who values home and family. That’s not to say other types won’t offer long-term commitment, but they will offer it in different ways and at different times in their life. For instance, Directors can be very dedicated to family, but they’re workaholics and it can be hard for them to leave their desk and find someone, and they hate dating.
Is there such a thing as a bad match?
Absolutely not. Each match is going to have assets and problems. For example, two Explorers are going to have a ball together. They’re not going to argue over the best way to cook a chicken, but they’re inclined to addiction, recklessness and philandering. We are all a blend of the four personality types, and often our secondary type plays a powerful role in who we are and how we love. For most Explorers, morality is a flexible concept but Explorer/Builders are likely to have a more fixed moral sense and seek a partner who shares their view of duty.