What is the premise of the Three Loves Theory of Helen Fisher?
Intrigued by questions as to why a certain group of people falls in love and why different people have such compelling ideas of love, Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist set out on a journey to explain the neurological processes that take place when a person falls in ‘love’. Fisher’s premise of the ‘Three Loves Theory’ is based on a notion that not all love is experienced equally. After many years of research, Fisher and her team made a groundbreaking discovery by conducting an experiment which included MRI scans of over 2500 people who either had just fallen in love, been in love for a few weeks or months and some of which who claimed to be in love for many years. Once the assessments of the indagations were carried out, Fisher was able to correlate the neurobiological components of each segment of love to that of love experienced in the practical world.
The Three Loves and Their Characteristics
Lust, which could also be categorized as the ‘sex drive’ in both men and women, is often associated with testosterone. Pablo Neruda, Senator turned poet, referred to lust as an ‘eternal thirst’ or ‘infinite ache’ in one of his poems.
The stanza mentioned above very well depicts the nature of this category of love. This sexual desire could vary from person to person as one could suddenly have an urge to engage in sexual activity while doing something as simple as reading a book or driving a car. On the other hand, someone else might not feel this sudden tension and urge for months on end. This “intolerable neural itch” as put down by W.H. Auden depicts a congenital trait that is not only prevalent in humans but is also existent in other species across the globe.
This biological neuroanatomy also serves as the groundwork of the reproductive nature of humans. This factor evolved according to the circumstances that each individual was faced with to what we call the ‘mating process’ today. This mating process stems down from the dependency that female beings showed towards male beings as a form of protection and a source through which provisions could be made easily; this idea continues to play a pivotal role in a great number of societies across the globe.
The ‘Cerebrum Dana Foundation’ sheds light on how this facet is observed in other species. In one research conducted by the ‘Cerebrum Dana Foundation’, small rodents were used to demonstrate the relationship between sexual desire and attraction that is spontaneous and instantaneous. The study showed the release of norepinephrine when a drop of urine of the male rodent dropped on the female rodent’s lip which stimulated the release of estrogen. This study clearly illustrates the parameters of lust which can be explained by differentiating between love (an emotional connection) and lust (a sexual desire). Lust comes forward as a physical connection that essentially skims the surface while love allows one to delve deeper into an appreciable amount of time to learn about the other person’s socioeconomic background, moral and religious values, financial status, and wellbeing.
Lust portrays humans as an entirety of a social construct in the search for sexual consummation.
Helen Fisher penned down the characteristics of “passion” by stating that a person loses his/her self of sense as their brains are obsessively thinking about the other person. Passion and lust may seem inseparable at first glance as passion cannot be developed without the presence of lust. However, couples that have stayed together for years on end may hold onto the desire for each other rather than just sexual attraction; it is possible for people to not experience lust at a certain point in time but adulation for each other may still be prevalent.
In a TED talk, “The brain in love”, Fisher further described this as a point where “you crave them, you distort reality, your willingness to take enormous risks for this person” accentuates. At this stage, feelings of addiction such as tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse preponderate one’s rationale. In “Lust, Romance, Attachment – What brain scanning says about the drive to love”, Irenevigueguix listed down the symptoms associated with passion. Some of the symptoms include one’s tendency to ignore the flaws of the other person, constant thoughts and fantasies about the other person that occupy the brain, heartfelt empathy, the inability to find someone else attractive while the thoughts of the loved one occupy one’s brain and undergoing feelings of restlessness, shyness, and anxiety. Passion is linked to feelings of calm and security that one may feel when they are with their loved ones.
The final point brings us to ‘commitment’ which is deep-rooted in the shared experiences and the long-term compatibility that proves to be the basis of love. One characteristic of this stage of love is that each person is not only able to accept his/her flaws but is also able to recognize and accept the other person’s shortcomings. Each person must be aware of their self-image, estranged from being disillusioned into their ideas of what the other person might be. This comes from the idea that their relationship will carry on for an indefinite period for which they are willing to compromise other elements that may prove to be a hurdle in the long run.
In another study conducted by Fisher, a married man was asked to think about his wife getting into a car accident and then was asked to think about himself getting into a car accident so the same areas of the brain were highlighted in the fMRI scans. This particular aspect wasn’t prevalent in couples who hadn’t yet entered the third stage of love. Once the couple believes that their relationship will outlast any difficulty that they will encounter, only one thing will suffice a threat to the individual’s self-identity: harmful engagement in activities that one’s partner might not approve of.
Is there a timeframe for each love?
Each category of love is associated with different neurobiological components in the brain which may last for a few minutes or may span out for years. Understanding the anatomy of love helps us understand the timeframe for each love classified by Helen Fisher. ‘Lust’ is purely instinctual and instantaneous that requires an immediate response by the body while ‘passion’ is the emotional connection that is embedded in the mammalian brain. ‘Passion’ may take a few days or even weeks to develop which may last from approximately 3-6 months. Last but not the least, ‘commitment’ comes to the surface when two people have stayed together for 1-3 years and it may last for a lifetime.
What is the science behind the theorizing of Three Loves Theory? (Experimentations, neurological processes, etc.)
Helen Fisher broke down the elements of love into three categories (lust, passion, commitment) in terms of chemical substances that are released by some parts of the brain when a person is in love. The hormones that are secreted by several glands in our body have been very well described by Helen Fisher in her ‘Three Loves Theory’. Firstly, testosterone is a sex hormone that plays a major role in the “lust” category put rightly by Fisher.
Secondly, certain chemicals like dopamine, Norepinephrine, and serotonin make up for the earnest love that one may feel. Dopamine and Norepinephrine are hormones that are secreted for short periods that make your palms sweaty and your heart beat faster. Moreover, the pleasurable feeling that a person derives from a certain act can be attributed to dopamine which in this case would make one person addicted to their significant other.
An interesting point to note here is that dopamine often referred to as the “pleasure chemical”, also has an adverse influence on people as it reinforces the effects of drug abuse and addiction. This further elucidates how a person can get addicted to the physical act in itself rather than to the other person. Secondly, serotonin regulates a person’s sexual desires and their obsession with their significant other which primarily serves to explain why a lot of people who claim to be in love cannot stop thinking about their better half. Lastly, the category of affection includes oxytocin and vasopressin which are released by the brain to promote affection and passion between two people.
Overall, it is seen that Fisher sufficiently gathered data from her research that spanned over the years to understand and answer a simple question as to why people fall in love? Fisher once gave an example of how people in love place their loved ones on a higher pedestal as compared to everyone else in the same room. E.g., their car would seem very different from the other cars standing idle in the parking lot or their glass may seem very different than every other glass placed on the same table. She very beautifully carried this idea along and quoted a Chinese poet who penned down the following poem: “I cannot bear to put down the bamboo sleeping mat. The night I brought you home, I watched you roll it out”. The speaker in this poem did exactly what Fisher has mentioned earlier. Fisher broke down the idea of love into different categories and related it to aspects from the real world that further added weight to her argument.