Here's a video of me speaking at TED in 2006. I talked about the bio-chemical foundations of love (and lust), and discussed the natural talents of women, and their new significance in the modern world. (Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 24:13)
There’s something new from the world of sweaty tee shirts, and I’m excited--because it says something powerful about our human nature.
It’s about romantic compatibility, in this case “MHC” compatibility. MHC means Major Histocompatibility Complex and it refers to a particular set of genes you inherit in your immune system, your body’s chemical defense system against intruding aliens, aliens in the form of bacteria, viruses and other no-good-niks. Each of us inherits our own version of this complex set of genes.
In a classic study, women were given men’s tee-shirts to sniff. And to the astonishment of many scientists, women preferred those worn by men with a different set of MHC genes than their own. They distinguished this by smell. This unconscious preference probably discourages “inbreeding” with close relatives and can create a stronger immune system in one’s young.
But get this. Scientists have now looked at MHC compatibility among romantic couples and they report that the more genes in this system that a couple share, the more sexually unfaithful the woman is and the more she is attracted to other men during in the middle of her menstrual cycle—when she is ovulating and likely to get pregnant.
I’m not excited about adultery, hardly. But this new study supports a theory I have about romantic love, a theory at the core of my endeavor to match members of the new Internet dating/relationship site, Chemistry.com.
This endeavor began two years ago when Match.com came to me and asked me why we fall in love with one person rather than another. There are many forces that guide attraction, of course. We tend to be attracted to those of the same ethnic and socio-economic background, as well as those with a similar intelligence, good looks and religious values. We also fall in love with those who supply our needs. And certainly your childhood plays a role. But when scientists administer personality tests to long-married couples, NO patterns of personality similarity or differences emerge.
So after a good deal of reading, I came to believe that humans fall into four very broad genetic types, what I call the Explorer, Builder, Negotiator and Director--each associated respectively with the activities of dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone. Moreover, I theorized that we are regularly attracted to individuals (from our background) who have a different genetic profile. This way partners can bear more varied young and co-parent with a wider array of parenting skills.
Today some 1.6 million men and women have joined Chemistry.com, (a sincere thanks to them), and I have collected data on the first 523,622. And from the ways these men and women have answered the questions I devised to join the site, it appears that we are attracted to those who are genetically different from ourselves—in more ways than just MHC compatibility!
In short, these new data on MHC compatibility suppport my theory and boost my conviction that the folks at Chemistry.com can match men and women more effectively using a biological approach (as well as the standard means of matching).
Equally important to me as a scientist, we are beginning to understand nature’s blueprint for mate choice—one of the most profoundly important decisions we make in life.
Hello fellow bloggers. This is my first post. So I thought I would tell you why I titled my blog “The Nature of Love.”
I am an identical twin. And one day when I was about six, my mother commanded me and my twin sister, Lorna, to assemble in the foyer of our home in Connecticut to greet one of her friends. The woman soon asked us all the standard questions. “Do you two have extra-sensory perception about one another?” “Do you like the same foods?” etc. But then she leaned in to me and almost whispered, “Do you two think alike.” I felt instant disdain for her. How was I supposed to know how Lorna thought?
But that question remained with me. And as I studied for my PhD in anthropology, I became more and more fixated on this issue: our common human nature—how and why and in what ways do you and I and everyone else on this gorgeous blue/green planet think and act alike. My teenage and womanhood adventures with sex and romance had their impact on my curiosity as well.
So since graduate school I have focused on our human mating habits, why and how we fall in love, who we choose, why we marry, why some of us are adulterous, why we divorce and remarry, how men and women are different (and similar), future sex and how we can sustain love in a long relationship. I have approached these topics from many angles, from studying divorce in 62 societies, to examining the sex lives of chimpanzees and other relatives, to scanning the brains of people who are crazily in love, and most recently, to exploring attraction among the members of the new Internet dating/relationship service, Chemistry.com.
Darwin regarded humanity as one of many “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.” And as I have eavesdropped on nature’s plans, I have come to know more about our ancient human spirit.
This blog is my next step in this lifelong investigation of brain sex. But this time I hope you will help. Write to me. Together let’s “push off,” as Tennyson wrote, and “follow knowledge like a sinking star.” Perhaps as we share our experiences and ideas we will take another step toward understanding human nature, then use this knowledge to improve our sexual, romantic and family lives.
Semper ad astra (always to the stars) Helen Fisher.