44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2008
This book suceeds on two levels. First, it is scientifically rigorous, though speculative. (those who accuse Fisher of being a popularizer obviously have never read her technical journal articles, nor other articles on this subject by researchers. She is no more speculative than they.) Second, it is existentially enlightening and empathetic. Fisher does not just wish to share her scientific insights into romantic love, she wishes to let you know that she feels your pains and joys. She wishes to explain and understand.
Fisher begins by laying out the basic external and internal manifestations of romantic love. What does it do to people? Here she is spot on. It causes us to focus our energy on the beloved, endow that person with special meaning, increases our energy, etc. Most importantly, it causes obsessive, intrusive thinking. We can't go a minute without the object of our desire popping into our head! Now, I am not a betting man, but I am sure everyone can relate to this description.
After describing the basic characteristics of romantic love, Fisher discusses the possible neural underpinnings that cause such intense feelings. She speculates that humans have three different systems: 1)Lust. This is mostly controlled by testosterone. This drive causes one night stands and other stupid behaviors us men seem to excell at. 2) romantic love. This drive is caused by increasing dopamine levels stimulating 'pleasure centers' in the brain. Specifically, the ventral tegmental area, caudate nucleus, and probably the nucleus accumbens. Romantic love probably also involves an increase in norepinephrine and a decrease in serotonin. The last is worth a brief explanation. It is well known that increased levels of serotonin are correlated with a sense of serenity, good moods, and an ability to inhibit behavior. So, would it not make sense for romantic love to raise levels of serotonin? No, actually it would not. Serotonin is known to be very low in people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Does this sound familiar? Indeed, people who have early-stage romantic attachment are very obsessive. It seems that the drop in serotonin is partially responsible for our wild inability to control our thoughts during this intensely emotional stage. 3) attachment, or bonding. This stage seems to be modulated most by two very important peptides: Vasopressin and Oxytocin. Both of these peptide/hormone/neurotransmitters are responsible for creating pleasurable sensations and feelings of calm. They are also known to be the causal forces behind pair bonding in rhodents. Humans are certainly more complex than rats, but evolution is very conservative. It is reasonable to postulate these peptides as important players in the pair bonding game.
After dipping into the scientific goo, Fisher speculates on the evolution of our three mating drives. Why do humans have three? Lust evolved to spread our genes far and wide. It is the drive that makes us seek partners on the quick. Romantic love evolved to bring indviduals close together for longer periods of time. In humans this is important because we have systems of biparental care where both parents are vital in ensuring the survival of offspring. The pair bonding system probably evolved for the same reason as the romantic love system, except humans needed the bonding part to stay together during the long stage of infant development. The longer a man stayed around to provide his child with resources the better.
There are many more details, speculations, and findings reported in this fascinating work, but you will have to read it for yourself.
Personally, I am amazed at the explanatory power of Fisher's synthesis. I remember pining long hours (days, months) over many pulchritudinous young women. Some got so stuck in my noggin that I couldn't concentrate for weeks. I thought I was going mad. It seemed to me at the time that the best description of the feeling was addiction. That is, I felt like I was consistently being shot up with a powerful drug and if I didn't get my fix, I would go crazy. Hence the obsessive attempts to be around my crushes. How pathetic I was!! Yet, when I read Fisher's work, I realized love is like a uber-powerful drug. Dopamine is scandalous in its workings. How much heart-ache and bliss have our neurotransmitters caused us? How much irrational poetry and music?
To understand this feeling will not help you feel happy when you are rejected, nor will it take the pleasure away if you fall in love. It may, however, give you some peace of mind and put things into perspective.
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
When it comes to communicating about sex, there's often a gap between what we want to say and how we say it, and even the gentlest of words can come off as confrontational. Criticism, expressed or perceived harshly, can be the sexual kiss of death.
Anthropologists have long observed that women are "face-to-face" communicators, while men do so "side by side." This means that women are much more comfortable with direct eye contact, which probably has a lot to do with the long history female history of maternal nursing, cuddling, and generally fawning over their infants while staring lovingly into those big baby eyes.
Men, on the other hand, find direct eye contact extremely confrontational on an instinctive level. As Dr. Helen Fisher writes in her remarkable book, Why We Love, "This response probably stems from men's ancestry. For many millennia men faced their enemies; they sat or walked sat by side as they hunted game with their friends."
As a sex therapist I get asked all the time, "How do I talk to my guy about sex without making him defensive?" Now I will offer the advice, "unless you want your words to usher him into battle, use evolution to your advantage, and have a sex-talk while taking a walk or a drive."
Thanks Dr. Fisher for the infinite wisdom that abounds on every page of this remarkable book!
72 of 84 people found the following review helpful
"Why We Love" is one of the most interesting books available today on the subject of love. From years of empirical research finally comes a fact filled fascinating book on love. Helen Fisher examines the chemical basis of love; yes there are chemical changes when you are in love. From workings of specific chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and seratonin to fMRI examinations of the brain the book is packed with hard empirical research results. In addition to this she looks at evolutionary factors in things like how we choose our mate and how that process is different for men and women. Not to leave any stone unturned she also discusses the problem of lost love and its effects on our body and emotional health. Finally she discusses how to make romance last and includes a fascinating section on intimacy differences between male and female. "Why We Love" deserves the highest recommendation that I can give and is a book that I am likely not only to recommend but also to purchase as a gift for others who want to understand the phenomenon of love. Bravo Helen Fisher for such an enlightening work that is sure to become the new standard by which similar works will be judged.
93 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2004
I found this book a disappointment. Dr. Fisher's earlier book, The Sex Contract, was a popular and accessible review of some important ideas about evolution and human behavior. They have been around for 20 years or more but hadn't reached a lay audience. Nothing wrong with popularizing science. It's a public service. Personally, I'd suggest Sara Hrdy's The Woman Who Never Evolved and Mother Nature as the books about evolution, sex, and bonding that will stand the test of time.
Unfortunately, Dr. Fisher's new book is less a service to science or the public than The Sex Contract. Indeed her books seem to me to be steadily sliding downward from popularization of science to mere popularization. Notwithstanding social scientists' current enthusiasm for brain research, we are still very early in the game. In most respects we don't know the right questions to ask or how to frame them. We rarely know what the answers are like, muchless the details or how they might be translated into practical applications.
Dr. Fisher presents a few facts about neurotransmitters as explaining far more than they reasonably can. There are the obligatory cautions and qualifications but they aren't allowed to get in the way of the story. A great deal of the most careful neuroscience research on bonding and parenting is on mice. Nice little brains, inexpensive to feed, and they are mammals. But their evolutionary solution to mating, having young, and parenting is dramatically different from ours. The adults don't form lasting bonds. They have an amazing number of offspring which require care for only a very brief time, and their young do not have lifelong bonds to the parents. As Dr. Fisher points out in her previous books, humans are dramatically different. We differ from rodents (and most other species) in our monogamous bonding, paternal investment in young, small number of offspring, their extrordinarily long immaturity, the duration of care we provide, and the duration of chidren's bonds to their parents.
It would be nice to know in detail how the chemistry of the mouse brain explains mouse behavior. It might help us ask the right questions about human brains and behavior. But it doesn't seem likely that the same mechanisms would account for such very different behavior in humans.
Read the book. Enjoy the story. It will give you the "feeling of knowing". Just don't take any pills, accept any mental health or marital advice, make any decisions about your romantic life, or do a term paper in biology or biopsychology without a trip to the library.
38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The one thing one can say with confidence before reading this book is that love is universal: it affects everyone on this planet and everyone that has ever lived. Love can occur spontaneously or it can be chosen, and it can be responsible for much pleasure, as well as much pain. It is so common that its celebration has become the topic of countless novels and platitudes, as well as embedded in a myriad of cliches. But can there be a science of love, i.e. can love be examined for example using the frameworks of cognitive neuroscience or neuropharmacology? Does love lend itself to the modus operandi of reductionism that is so characteristic of scientific research?
This book can be considered to be a first approximation to a science of love. Targeted to what has been called the "popular audience" it nevertheless gives enough references that interested readers can consult for more details. It is an interesting book, and the author has done a fine job in presenting her case for a neuroscientific theory of love. It convinces the reader that such a theory is not only possible, but also does not diminish the importance and mystique of romantic love. If indeed in the future a comprehensive neuroscientific theory of romantic love were finally developed, this would not mean that such an in-depth understanding would alter our personal interest in engaging in romance. Love poems and love stories will still be written, jilted lovers will still feel pain, and people will still seek out and find the person of their dreams.
That love is not an isolated process in the human brain is brought out with great clarity in the book. Indeed, love as a neuronal process or emotion is correlated with the emotions of jealousy, anger, and hatred, among others. And since romantic love is such a strong emotion, as are these others, one might be led to believe that it might, as a neuronal process, have a long lifetime. The author sheds some light on this question, quoting research from neuroscience that indicates that romantic love lasts anywhere from twelve to eighteen months. Noting this research, she nevertheless asserts that the actual lifetime of romantic love is highly variable, depending greatly on the individuals that are involved.
The most interesting part of the book was chapter 3, which is a discussion on the experimental techniques that were used by the author to study which parts of the brain are activated when a person is strongly in love, and a discussion of the brain chemistry of love. Her discussion summarizes some of her research that she conducted in 1996, with the goal of collecting data on the role of chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Dopamine in suitable levels can produce a more focused attention and highly motivated goal-directed behavior, all of these being characteristic of romantic love, the author asserts. As for norepinephrine, it can produce high energy, loss of appetite, insomnia, and extremely enhanced memory capabilities, which are again associated with romantic love. Serotonin, which has been used to treat individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, is implicated by the author in explaining why people in love seem to think incessantly about the object of their love. The author though cautions the reader that her belief that these chemicals play a role in romantic love must be weighed against the fact that these chemicals can produce different effects depending on their dose. In addition, they perform different functions depending on the region of the brain, and each will interact with the other in different ways depending on the circumstances. The author though takes as a working hypothesis that romantic love is caused by elevated levels of dopamine or norepinephrine, and decreased levels of serotonin.
The author reports that her experiments in fMRI scans indicate that there is activity in the part of the brain called the caudate nucleus when a person is strongly in love. Subjects that were in love were presented a photo of their sweetheart and the scans indicated that the caudate is highly activated when this was done. This apparently was a surprise to the author, for she states that this region was widely known to be responsible for the directing of body movement, and only has recently been shown to be also responsible for sensations of pleasure and for motivation to gain rewards. According to the author, the data indicated that the more passionate the person was about their loved one, the more active the caudate was. As stated this statement is somewhat suspect, since one would need an independent criteria for determining the degree of passion in the subject at hand. In addition to the caudate, the scans revealed that the brain region that becomes active when people eat chocolate also becomes active when people are passionately in love. This result has been widely publicized in the press and Hollywood movies, interestingly.
Another result, described as "striking" by the author, was that the fMRI experiments revealed activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. The VTA has been revealed to be the center of the reward circuitry of the brain, and is responsible for the creation of dopamine-making cells, thus adding support to her working hypothesis. Because of the association with motivational centers of the brain, the author also claims that these experiments verified that romantic love is a fundamental human mating drive. Thus it can be hard to control, like other drives such as hunger or thirst. The author is careful to note that her experiments did not establish the role of norepinephrine and serotonin in romantic love. In addition, the role of the "thinking" part of the brain, namely the cerebral cortex, was not revealed in these experiments.
37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2005
From the first page I had serious questions about the scholarship of this book. Fisher masquerades this book as hard science however, her ideas are nothing more than teen magazine relationship articles edited for publication in a "text". Even the level of writing surprised me; from an academic I would expect more.
The first problem with Fisher's theory is that her very definition of love is frightening to say the least. Jealousy, possessiveness, need, mood swings, emotional dependence - this is love!? I was shocked that one of her questions to measure love was, "My emotional state depends on how _____ feels about me." Fisher would lead us to believe that love is enmeshment. Bowen and Minuchin would be rolling in their graves!
In the first chapter Fisher compares poetry and literature written throughout the ages to modern day interpretations of love. This is plain bad historical scholarship. It is impossible to understand history without understanding the historical context that these texts were written in. These documents cannot be used as side-by-side comparisons because the historical contexts are dramatically different. By their nature, these documents provide skewed interpretations since they are dramatic reenactments of people's lives; the mundane aspects of relationships are not recorded in these documents. It is as if someone was to take The Iliad and understand that as an accurate interpretation of everyday life in ancient Greece.
The second chapter provides comparisons of animal relationships to human relationships. Human brains are far more developed than animal brains and to look toward animal behaviors, especially non-mammalian species, to make scientific assumptions about human behavior is horribly bad science. Yes, there are certain behaviors that are similar to humans and animals but to draw point blank conclusions as Fisher does, is irresponsible. Fisher also picks and chooses which behaviors she is going to make conclusions about - you will not read about animals eating their young in this chapter. Also since animals are not able to communicate emotion, Fisher is making inferences about what these behaviors mean. It is absolutely impossible to make statements like "If teenage boys are fidgety on dates, so are savannah baboons..." or "Violet, the panicky little pug...was in love with Bingo, the other pug," with 100% scientific certainty. We can guess that this is what an animal feels but until animals can articulate feelings, knowing this for certain is a scientific impossibility.
The bad science continues through the book. If the reader is interested in academic scholarship, this is NOT the book for you. My copy of this text is covered with handwritten notes about why Fisher's arguments are illogical and why her "experiments" with her fMRI study are atrocious abuses of the scientific method. I would not recommend this book to any serious student of human relationships.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2006
As a chemist, when I am told something I usually respond by asking, "Why?" More times than not, the answer i receive is less than sufficient.
Recently I was heartbroken by my fiance when he left me. I didn't understand why I began to feel tired, angry, sad, etc. at the slightest thought of him.
Then I came across this book, which gave insight as to why I was feeling all of these mixed emotions, and supplied with scientific support. It is a mind stimulating, descriptive book explaining the biology and chemistry of Love in humans (with a couple of incredibly interesting sections on the behavior of some other animals). Anyone that has ever had their heart broken can easily relate to this book and should definitely invest a bit of time reading about "why we love."
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2004
So far, I have read about 80 to 100 books on the topic of love everything from european poetry to sternberg's love theory with a few trashy cosmopolitan articles in between (I do admit, I have a clear obsession to understand what love is truly about).
Fisher's book has covered many aspects of evolutionary biology that have remained osbcured from many authors in the past. In many ways this book demystifies the concept of love and gives the reader a clear foundation of the biological processes that lie hidden from shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. H. Fisher picks some elegant human and non-human primate experiments to illustrate her ideas and goes beyond the lab to explain the every day phenomenon of love and attraction.
In summary, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic, including those who are deeply in love or to anyone out there who has lost a wonderful person and is looking for ways to understand a bit more.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2004
I liked Helen Fisher's previous book Anatomy of Love but this one is a disappointment. The new science is skimpy. She reports findings from a single unpublished fmri study and a questionnaire. So, after reading sappho or ovid, one gets sentences such as "65% of men agreed with the statement that being in love made them feel lighter than air" She's clearly not a brain scientist. Her discussions of the neurotransmitters which she annoyingly calls "liquors" and brain anatomy is simplified and rudimentary.
Last, its extremely quote heavy, so much so that she could easily make a separate book out of all the quotes. Her own writing in contrast is uninspired, e.g. "Please meet the prairie vole." "Now nature's timeless dance would begin."
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Dr. Helen Fisher's Why We Love is the rarest of books as it manages to simultaneously be both scientific and conversational in tone. All the citations, studies, and interpretations one would hope to find are present here along with personal anecdotes, and endless quotations from literary figures. Dr. Fisher is a physical anthropologist who should not be confused with those batty ideologues found on the other, lower order, end of her profession who deny the basis of biological differences existing between the sexes. The evidence that love is but a series of chemical reactions in the brain undertaken as a means to advance our reproductive goals is both robust and highly believable. I've studied different works on this topic, but was particularly impressed by the thoroughness of her explanations--particularly for why a man falls in love with a particular woman. Dr. Fisher, after detailing man's obsession with youth and beauty, outlined various additional factors impacting on the formation of love such as a desire on the part of man to rescue and aid women in distress. A woman's need for assistance and his accompanying need to feel valued are no minor components in the recipe which produces attachment. An additional area of value was the subsection describing why feelings of love are heightened when a couple do something novel together. This was quite intriguing as the argument is quite convincing. Indeed, it explains much about what we describe as romantic. As a narrator, Dr. Fisher is far from detached, but I mention this more as commendation than criticism because her biases are transparent and her enthusiasm is contagious. That she communicates so effectively with readers is yet another reason why finishing this text was effortless. There is considerably more oomph in these 220 pages than a glance at its index would suggest. My only criticism is that Dr. Fisher needed to attach an answer key to the "Being in Love" questionnaire included in the Appendix. Without some way to systematically quantify responses, the reader's efforts will not be very meaningful. Regardless, this is an outstanding book which is very educational and meant for popular consumption.