The brain in love | Helen Fisher

I and my colleagues Art Aron
and Lucy Brown and others, have put 37 people who are madly in love
into a functional MRI brain scanner. 17 who were happily in love,
15 who had just been dumped, and we’re just starting
our third experiment: studying people who report
that they’re still in love after 10 to 25 years of marriage. So, this is the short story
of that research. In the jungles of Guatemala,
in Tikal, stands a temple. It was built by the grandest Sun King,
of the grandest city-state, of the grandest civilization
of the Americas, the Mayas. His name was Jasaw Chan K’awiil. He stood over six feet tall. He lived into his 80s, and he was buried beneath
this monument in 720 AD. And Mayan inscriptions proclaim
that he was deeply in love with his wife. So, he built a temple
in her honor, facing his. And every spring and autumn,
exactly at the equinox, the sun rises behind his temple, and perfectly bathes her temple
with his shadow. And as the sun sets
behind her temple in the afternoon, it perfectly bathes
his temple with her shadow. After 1,300 years, these two lovers
still touch and kiss from their tomb. Around the world, people love. They sing for love, they dance for love, they compose poems and stories about love. They tell myths and legends about love. They pine for love, they live for love,
they kill for love, and they die for love. As Walt Whitman once said,
“O I would stake all for you.” Anthropologists have found evidence
of romantic love in 170 societies. They’ve never found a society
that did not have it. But love isn’t always a happy experience. In one study of college students,
they asked a lot of questions about love, but the two that stood out
to me the most were: “Have you ever been rejected
by somebody who you really loved?” And the second question was: “Have you ever dumped somebody
who really loved you?” And almost 95 percent of both men
and women said yes to both. Almost nobody gets out of love alive. So, before I start telling you
about the brain, I want to read for you what I think is the most powerful
love poem on Earth. There’s other love poems that are,
of course, just as good, but I don’t think this one
can be surpassed. It was told by an anonymous
Kwakiutl Indian of southern Alaska to a missionary in 1896. And here it is. I’ve never had the opportunity
to say it before. “Fire runs through my body
with the pain of loving you. Pain runs through my body
with the fires of my love for you. Pain like a boil about to burst
with my love for you, consumed by fire with my love for you. I remember what you said to me. I am thinking of your love for me. I am torn by your love for me. Pain and more pain — where are you going with my love? I am told you will go from here. I am told you will leave me here. My body is numb with grief. Remember what I said, my love. Goodbye, my love, goodbye.” Emily Dickinson once wrote,
“Parting is all we need to know of hell.” How many people have suffered in all the millions of years
of human evolution? How many people around the world are dancing with elation
at this very minute? Romantic love is one of the most powerful
sensations on Earth. So, several years ago,
I decided to look into the brain and study this madness. Our first study of people
who were happily in love has been widely publicized, so I’m only going to say
very little about it. We found activity in a tiny,
little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area. We found activity in some cells
called the A10 cells, cells that actually make
dopamine, a natural stimulant, and spray it to many brain regions. Indeed, this part, the VTA,
is part of the brain’s reward system. It’s way below your cognitive
thinking process. It’s below your emotions. It’s part of what we call
the reptilian core of the brain, associated with wanting, with motivation,
with focus and with craving. In fact, the same brain region
where we found activity becomes active also
when you feel the rush of cocaine. But romantic love is much more
than a cocaine high — at least you come down from cocaine. Romantic love is an obsession,
it possesses you. You lose your sense of self. You can’t stop thinking
about another human being. Somebody is camping in your head. As an eighth-century Japanese poet said,
“My longing had no time when it ceases.” Wild is love. And the obsession can get worse
when you’ve been rejected. So, right now, Lucy Brown and I,
the neuroscientists on our project, are looking at the data of the people who were put into the machine
after they had just been dumped. It was very difficult actually,
putting these people in the machine, because they were in such bad shape. (Laughter) So anyway, we found activity
in three brain regions. We found activity in the brain region, in exactly the same brain region
associated with intense romantic love. What a bad deal. You know, when you’ve been dumped, the one thing you love to do
is just forget about this human being, and then go on with your life —
but no, you just love them harder. As the poet Terence,
the Roman poet once said, he said, “The less my hope,
the hotter my love.” And indeed, we now know why. Two thousand years later,
we can explain this in the brain. That brain system — the reward system for wanting, for motivation,
for craving, for focus — becomes more active
when you can’t get what you want. In this case, life’s greatest prize:
an appropriate mating partner. We found activity
in other brain regions also — in a brain region associated
with calculating gains and losses. You’re lying there,
you’re looking at the picture, and you’re in this machine, and you’re calculating what went wrong. What have I lost? As a matter of fact, Lucy and I
have a little joke about this. It comes from a David Mamet play, and there’s two con artists in the play, and the woman is conning the man, and the man looks at the woman and says, “Oh, you’re a bad pony,
I’m not going to bet on you.” And indeed, it’s this part of the brain, the core of the nucleus accumbens, that is becoming active
as you’re measuring your gains and losses. It’s also the brain region
that becomes active when you’re willing to take enormous risks
for huge gains and huge losses. Last but not least,
we found activity in a brain region associated with deep attachment
to another individual. No wonder people suffer around the world,
and we have so many crimes of passion. When you’ve been rejected in love, not only are you engulfed
with feelings of romantic love, but you’re feeling deep
attachment to this individual. Moreover, this brain circuit
for reward is working, and you’re feeling intense energy,
intense focus, intense motivation and the willingness to risk it all,
to win life’s greatest prize. So, what have I learned
from this experiment that I would like to tell the world? Foremost, I have come to think that romantic love is a drive,
a basic mating drive. Not the sex drive — the sex drive gets you looking
for a whole range of partners. Romantic love enables you
to focus your mating energy on just one at a time,
conserve your mating energy, and start the mating process
with this single individual. I think of all the poetry
that I’ve read about romantic love, what sums it up best
is something that is said by Plato over 2,000 years ago. He said, “The god of love
lives in a state of need. It is a need, it is an urge,
it is a homeostatic imbalance. Like hunger and thirst,
it’s almost impossible to stamp out.” I’ve also come to believe
that romantic love is an addiction: a perfectly wonderful addiction
when it’s going well, and a perfectly horrible addiction
when it’s going poorly. And indeed, it has all
of the characteristics of addiction. You focus on the person,
you obsessively think about them, you crave them, you distort reality, your willingness to take enormous
risks to win this person. And it’s got the three main
characteristics of addiction: tolerance, you need to see them
more, and more, and more; withdrawals; and last: relapse. I’ve got a girlfriend who’s just
getting over a terrible love affair. It’s been about eight months,
she’s beginning to feel better. And she was driving along
in her car the other day, and suddenly she heard a song
on the car radio that reminded her of this man. Not only did the instant
craving come back, but she had to pull over
from the side of the road and cry. So, one thing I would like
the medical community, and the legal community,
and even the college community, to see if they can understand,
that indeed, romantic love is one of the most addictive
substances on Earth. I would also like to tell the world
that animals love. There’s not an animal on this planet that will copulate with anything
that comes along. Too old, too young, too scruffy,
too stupid, and they won’t do it. Unless you’re stuck
in a laboratory cage — and you know, if you spend
your entire life in a little box, you’re not going to be as picky
about who you have sex with, but I’ve looked in a hundred species, and everywhere in the wild,
animals have favorites. As a matter of fact,
ethologists know this. There are over eight words
for what they call “animal favoritism:” selective proceptivity, mate choice,
female choice, sexual choice. And indeed, there are now
three academic articles in which they’ve looked
at this attraction, which may only last for a second, but it’s a definite attraction, and either this same brain region,
this reward system, or the chemicals of that reward
system are involved. In fact, I think animal attraction
can be instant — you can see an elephant
instantly go for another elephant. And I think that this is really the origin of what you and I call
“love at first sight.” People have often asked me whether what I know about love
has spoiled it for me. And I just simply say, “Hardly.” You can know every single ingredient
in a piece of chocolate cake, and then when you sit down
and eat that cake, you can still feel that joy. And certainly, I make all the same
mistakes that everybody else does too, but it’s really deepened my understanding and compassion, really,
for all human life. As a matter of fact, in New York,
I often catch myself looking in baby carriages
and feeling a little sorry for the tot. And in fact, sometimes
I feel a little sorry for the chicken on my dinner plate, when I think of how intense
this brain system is. Our newest experiment has been hatched by my colleague, Art Aron — putting people who are reporting
that they are still in love, in a long-term relationship,
into the functional MRI. We’ve put five people in so far, and indeed, we found exactly
the same thing. They’re not lying. The brain areas associated
with intense romantic love still become active, 25 years later. There are still many questions
to be answered and asked about romantic love. The question that I’m working on
right this minute — and I’m only going to say it
for a second, and then end — is, why do you fall in love
with one person, rather than another? I never would have
even thought to think of this, but, the Internet dating site, came to me three years ago
and asked me that question. And I said, I don’t know. I know what happens in the brain,
when you do become in love, but I don’t know why you fall in love
with one person rather than another. And so, I’ve spent
the last three years on this. And there are many reasons
that you fall in love with one person rather than another,
that psychologists can tell you. And we tend to fall in love with somebody
from the same socioeconomic background, the same general level of intelligence,
of good looks, the same religious values. Your childhood certainly plays a role,
but nobody knows how. And that’s about it, that’s all they know. No, they’ve never found the way two personalities
fit together to make a good relationship. So, it began to occur to me that maybe your biology pulls you
towards some people rather than another. And I have concocted a questionnaire
to see to what degree you express dopamine, serotonin,
estrogen and testosterone. I think we’ve evolved four
very broad personality types associated with the ratios
of these four chemicals in the brain. And on this dating site
that I have created, called, I ask you first a series of questions to see to what degree
you express these chemicals, and I’m watching who chooses who to love. And 3.7 million people have taken
the questionnaire in America. About 600,000 people have taken it
in 33 other countries. I’m putting the data together now, and at some point —
there will always be magic to love, but I think I will come closer
to understanding why it is you can walk into a room
and everybody is from your background, your same general level
of intelligence, good looks, and you don’t feel
pulled towards all of them. I think there’s biology to that. I think we’re going to end up,
in the next few years, to understand all kinds
of brain mechanisms that pull us to one person
rather than another. So, I will close with this. These are my older people. Faulkner said, “The past is not dead,
it’s not even past.” Indeed, we carry a lot of luggage
from our yesteryear in the human brain. And so, there’s one thing that makes me
pursue my understanding of human nature, and this reminds me of it. These are two women. Women tend to get intimacy
differently than men do. Women get intimacy
from face-to-face talking. We swivel towards each other, we do what we call
the “anchoring gaze” and we talk. This is intimacy to women. I think it comes from millions of years of holding that baby
in front of your face, cajoling it, reprimanding it,
educating it with words. Men tend to get intimacy
from side-by-side doing. As soon as one guy looks up,
the other guy will look away. (Laughter) I think it comes from millions of years
sitting behind the bush, looking straight ahead, trying to hit
that buffalo on the head with a rock. I think, for millions of years,
men faced their enemies, they sat side-by-side with friends. So my final statement is: love is in us. It’s deeply embedded in the brain. Our challenge is to understand each other. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The brain in love | Helen Fisher

  1. The content of this talk is:
    30% love quotes
    30% cringe jokes
    40% scientific love stuffs

  2. Hey you yes you, you are just a brain, YOU is all of your brain. Sorry I'm very existential.

  3. learn to use HATE as HATE don't look for love it dosnt exist
    use HATE as fuel to fight

  4. I'm not sure about what this woman has contributed to us… her scientific findings are like "love is an addiction", stuff we already know. and otherwise ripped of personality systems predicting compability while at the same time saying every type is compatible with every type. many claims she does about love are nothing but her biased "intuitive" opinion without any backup. strange that all her "scientific findings" perfectly align with her worldview, for example that the two genders' brains are so different but when it comes to race there's barely a difference, that technology hasn't changed love while she is promoting the dating site she has worked with… god is this woman annoying.

  5. "in fact, the same region where we found activity becomes active also when you feel the rush of cocaine."

    well fellas, i guess i dont need me no girlfriend

  6. When I thought TED couldn't disappoint me more, I ran into this talk to make it even worse.

  7. Love is not an addiction. That is what the weak and unsuccessful use to describe commitment. This is a disgusting and incorrect conclusion. Love is not an addiction love is a force that binds life together. It is the 5th fundamental force, similar to electromagnetism or gravity. I would recommend learning more about love from the Love & Romance Club here is the link to their website –

  8. Still IN love after 10-25 years?. Liars. They might have a deep tolerant love , care and regard strong attachment etc but they will NOT be IN love. Why perpetuate this romantic myth that 99% cannot live up to? And strangely it goes against her theory of the ' long term tolerance' third stage.

  9. The cost of love is too dear , if and when I feel I'm slipping into it , I run the other way as fast as my feet will carry me . Marriage and kids suck up ALL of your adult life , you wind up without a moment to yourself . After a couple of years love turns into contempt , then you are stuck many times for life . That IN LOVE uphoria last a couple of years if you are lucky , then the contempt sneaks in and if you have kids , it's too late . If you are a young man and childless , thank your lucky stars and get a vasectomy tomorrow . Because the uforia early on is so powerful you think some how it's going to be different for you . That's what tricks all men into it , if you doubt what I'm saying ask any man after he's been married for a few years . Talk to as many experienced men as you can if they are honest they will tell you . Your brain's chemicals are telling you do do things you really DON'T WANT TO DO !!!! It's really not much different for women , their brain chemicals are telling them to build a nest , nurture and mother . Remember it's NOT YOU it's your hormones / brain chemicals , trying to suck you into a place you really don't want to go . Doubt me or what I'm saying ? Copy this post and show to any one who's been married for a few years . TheReaper!

  10. Love Management: As soon as you begin to develop feelings for a chick, interact with other hot chicks until you begin to develop feelings for them too. When you spread your love around, the pain isn't too powerful as you don't become absolutely fixated, and emotional obsessed, compared to seeking out that one potential lover. The only problem with this method is that one of those chicks may suddenly fall for you, without a warning. If you decide she's not the one, cut her off immediately, for her sake and for yours. Love doesn't have to be so painful. Enjoy it in small doses until the magic happens.

  11. I’m just now realizing, I’m not alone. There are other people going through a heartbreak and have been through one and they are okay so I know for sure I will be okay😇

  12. drinking game:
    every time she says love, take a shot.
    trust me youll be hammered and like four bottles short

  13. "bla bla maybe bla bla I think bla bla." Who funds these pseudo scientists?
    (by the way, women choose partners on equal or upward social status while men choose equal or lower social status women, so she couldn't even get that right)

    This is also a nice song.

  15. why you love one instate of another o_O? It's because your new memories is created every moments of life. So, when you try to love another, you constantly compare to not suffer the pain you currently have. And when you do so, you reminded by the good feeling that the first one bring to you. Since, memories is linked. And first memories is alway exceptable.
    By that time, there is 2 ideas that pop up. First, that new person have same good characteristic as the old one. Second, that new person have few bad characteristics. And nobody like bad things. As for the first love, you see the bad thing blinded by the good things because of your unexperient self. As for the next love, you put the bad and the good together. Therefore, the first love is the best. And we want the best (Ex:..).
    Another point of view, you can only love one at a time 😐. Because when you love two persons, you will compare, and will choosing one over another. So unless they both flawless 😂 you can only love one
    To the next idea, why you shouldn't come clearn about your everything. Because uncomfirmed data will look good. I mean, where is my manner to judging other as bad, right? Plus, self discover mean achievement, and that too, release dopamin. And.. will make you looking better than a cup of latte in the morning. As said, without mysteries in love, I would rather have a cup of coffee.

  16. What a lovely scientist. Objective and sharp without apology. Sometimes when you are sharp as a knife people get hurt by your words!

  17. Being in love sounds awful, dehumanising actually. Reason is a distinctly human faculty, anything contrary to reason is contrary to human nature. Being in love is contrary to reason, therefore it perverts human nature. A good human will not pervert their nature.

  18. Appropriate soundtrack for the poem at 3:06, here it is–

  19. When we're not aware of our projections on a person we love, romantically and more, that person becomes unmissable, it's making us believe that without that person the world will come to an end. Until we're rejected, we're given an opportunity to enter grieving for what feels like a loss and start looking into a mirror showing us the empty space within, where, until it's touched by suffering, the present may show up that is wrapped in that package. Detachment with heart can be found at some point, where the other person, who seemed to be the only one, becomes a friend whom you pass by at a crossroad, smiling.

  20. To say that romantic love is an addiction, is the same as saying that hunger is a disease. The point of view in Helen Fisher's talk, which is read from paper unfortunately, with a lack of enthousiasm and engagement with the audience (including me) is founded on the level of material evidence and judgement of how romantic love is experienced by human beings. The sensations that are experienced are applied to the nature of it and that's where this presentation goes off track, into mental byways, dead ends of a mind that can't observe itself objectively. It's in the realm where love exists, that understanding can be found.

  21. I wish she would show the MRI's of the other people (rejected,sad etc) not just one type (the in love type)

  22. Biology pulling us to someone else? Also maybe an energetic factor, and re-living our past….perhaps also seeking inspiration

  23. Todd. Reese. Right. Teen. Mom. Should. Be. Allowed. But. We. Cant. Ban. It sadly

  24. arrrr….too good.

  25. I experienced it. And although it makes me happy to feel that I am at least alive and that I can have it it ripped me apart. This thing made me, sensible sensitive man of 49 years old, drive 40km per hour like a zombie where 80km was allowed yesterday.
    It made me feel something has been taken out of me, every minute I felt pain.
    I drove 5x 1200km for her, Irina a German-Russian of 42 yrs old from Bad Neustadt
    Day and night she was in my thoughts
    We slept together like two young lovers, superintim and fine.
    Yet she dumped me after I lost my composure after I felt her slipping away, I called her refridgerator
    The breakup still causes pain and stress, cause she seemed to be over it, being cynical and not making that phone call to make it personal for which I asked in a really nice way, I asked for it.
    She did not do it
    So may I have the freedom to say that that is not love?
    After breaking up, I believe the other person deserves some attention and care and respect
    But I don’t want to look like a victim
    We combined very good
    And this drug called love makes me re-experience my mistake of losing my composure over and over and over again

  26. I think the problem is that people are focused on their emotions. What is that personal value that you completely covet and find in that particular person? Once you are convinced that you can't do without that person your brain physiology kicks in and puff, your in love. Be careful, you are exposed to the possible whims of this person; hope he/she is not a sociopath.

  27. The Inverse
    Square Law of Attraction

    The strength of the attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the availability of the object.

  28. Hi Madam Helen thanks for this very informative message
    I am inspired by watching you and listening to your speech

  29. You fall in love with someone because of chemistry, that's all. It's not a choice. It's a chemical reaction.

  30. if it would be the brains which are the tools we use to become in love, we would not feel butterflies in our bodies… you can not give a speech about love to answer the question of who your partner wil be… to find out how it works, you can not continue on this path

  31. My husband and I are not of the same religious, socio-economic or educational background……but maybe we bridge other commonalities. There's definitely biology/chemistry involved and simply a longing to belong and be understood.

  32. The funny thing about Love is can never make its mind up.✨✨💕😲😱😳💕✨✨🤔😁😍✨✨🍀🍀🍀✨✨🍀🥗🍀✨✨

  33. Well how about that? I read the poem she quotes – I first read it in a cool book called WHY WE LOVE… and through that made the connection that the author is the speaker. I love her book, and I am excited to hear to this speech which was given to me by autoplay. Happy too that my brain is still working and made this connection 🙂 Thanks for sharing this speech! Thanks for the book!

  34. The results of tests using parent/child relationships would be interesting to see. Are the same parts of the brain/body involved as with romantic love? What about with siblings? Could it be that "love" is simply "love" and we want to qualify it according to experiences? What happens in the brain when a father holds his newborn child?

  35. Great talk! I laughed so much and shedded some tender tears. 💗L O V E!

  36. All this talk is not about love, these people never experienced love, what they experienced is romantic love, not love

  37. Hate to say it, but I was disappointed by this TED talk. What was the point, that romantic love affects our brain similarly to cocaine? And her perspective was so narrow, we only focus this energy on one individual? Tell that to all the people in love with multiple individuals, such as polyamorous people. I feel like this was 16 minutes of poetry that sounded rather unhealthy obsession-y, love is like cocaine, and love is cool and every animal has methods of selecting mates! I'm sorry but this just felt like a waste of time and couldn't hold my attention.

  38. Lovely poem. I hadn't realised that native Americans had such good English back so long ago.

  39. The thing about magic be it may “magic of love” ; it is still an a fleeting illusion.


  41. I liked this talk! But one dimension seemingly overlooked is 'past lives' read:reincarnations. I have truly loved one particular human, was pretty taken-still am- for going on 16 years! Never shared more than 15 minutes of air space with him, don't even like him really, nothing in common AT ALL- but still he has been my muse beyond comprehension. I will always miss him, but still do not know why. So there!~~

  42. What about narcissists? What happens in their brain when they play they’re in love and are dumped?

  43. I really wish I never found love – it has almost broken me entirely, twice.
    Surely I cannot be that stupid to allow this thing in ever again

  44. Well that was enlightening. BUT! Her website is not about science, it’s about monthly memberships. It’s just another dating website. Boo for you. You used this forum to get more members on your website. Totally negates the validity of your information. I was planning to check out some of your other talks (or perhaps other parts of this same talk), but I changed my mind.

  45. 02:44 “I want to read for you what I think is the most powerful love poem on Earth.”

    03:06 "Fire runs through my body with the pain of loving you.

    Pain runs through my body with the fires of my love for you.

    Pain like a boil about to burst with my love for you,

    consumed by fire with my love for you.

    I remember what you said to me.

    I am thinking of your love for me.

    I am torn by your love for me.

    Pain and more pain —

    where are you going with my love?

    I am told you will go from here.

    I am told you will leave me here.

    My body is numb with grief.

    Remember what I said, my love.

    Goodbye, my love, goodbye."

    [This poem] It was told by an anonymous Kwakiutl Indian of southern Alaska to a missionary in 1896.

    Neuroscience of love: dopamine; the brain’s reward system; motivation and love

    04:15 “Our first study of people who were happily in love … We found activity in a tiny, little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). We found activity in some cells called the A10 cells, cells that actually make *dopamine*, a natural stimulant, and spray it to many brain regions.”

    “Indeed, this part, the VTA, is part of the *brain's reward system*. It's way below your cognitive thinking process. It's below your emotions. It's part of what we call the *reptilian core of the brain*, associated with *wanting, with motivation, with focus and with craving*.”

  46. 3:50 and onward… if you close your eyes and listen to her cadence, she sounds like Carl Sagan.

  47. This womans accent is one of the worst to listen to. I'm trying to honestly describe my repulsion for it as it does in fact repel me. It repels me in the way the South African Dutch hybrid 'Africaans' accent repels me! It's NOT an American accent….it's a New York accent …and could be a specific kind of New York one at that. It's an accent that seems enamoured by itself! It's the only way I can describe it other than it works at demanding to be listened to…not helped by the fact the speaker attempts to bring a poetry slam approach to the address. I listen because I'm interested in the information. Not her accent in any way.

  48. Yep! I was TOTALLY in love with my boyfriend of 8 years.
    That break up was the worst pain ever! But he did not love me, so I just could not stay with him any more. The pain of staying was as bad as the pain of leaving.
    Both pain is horrible- I did not have him either way. So best to move on and at least try to find a partner where love is reciprocated. 💗💗

  49. I am so frightened by the beginning music for Ted talks that I almost had a car accident once. Another time I was so scared by it that I jumped and dropped my coffee, another time I noticed how frightened and tense and scared I became that I have to now, fast forward straight into the talks. I can't bear the tension and loud noise and am so scared by it. Why do you do this? What is the purpose? This makes me skip the TED talks now entirely because that music scares me so much. I can't listen to them for fear of the music!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *