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3.7 out of 5 stars
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2004
This intriguing look at why we love responds to that question and more such as when we fall out of love and implies why cheating on one's love occurs. Using survey techniques applied globally and scrutinizing available governmental records to gather information and evaluate research data on human behavior, behavioral anthropologist Helen Fisher insists that romantic behavior is caused by two crucial chemicals produced by the brain. When a person falls in love, the brain generates major increases of energy that leads to positive and negative reactions such as passion, elation, obsession, and jealousy. Most interesting is the thesis on love amongst prehistorical mankind that insists that "four-year birth intervals were the regular pattern of birth spacing during our long human prehistory". The author insists this has been wired into our modern brains to remain monogamous for four years. World wide data shows that a higher than normal divorce rate occurs during the fourth year of marriage especially when one child has been born.
This is more than just a scientific look at love. Instead Dr. Fisher provides an intriguing argument on WHY WE LOVE and why we fall out of love. Though the emphasis is chemical and data oriented, Dr. Fisher also provides tips to stay in love that includes focusing on the positive emotions. Fascinating well written as a reference tome that provides insight yet the easy to read WHY WE LOVE: THE NATURE AND FUTURE OF ROMANTIC LOVE is fun to follow.
Harriet Klausner
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2 of 2 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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2007
I thought this book was fantastic. It's not a feel good book about love and how you can magically make someone love you. Ignore the reviews that slam the book for not explaining every possible scenario of love because if you have a scientifically minded way of dealing with things you can easily apply the logic you'll learn.

Highly recommended if you enjoy understanding the real reasons we do the human things we do.
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1 of 1 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."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2013
I found this book fascinating in terms of understanding the biological basis behind falling in love, and the different brain chemicals that are stimulated with different types of love. It is a fairly intellectual read that I found easier to interpret the highlights to my clients rather than loan it to them. It would be very helpful for anyone working with young adults who are at the stage of making decisions about who to marry, and helping them understand their own powerful emotions.
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on November 13, 2010
Thank you, Helen Fisher, for this book. I was reading this book when I let me heart get broken. It hurt so much, and I mean physically hurt. When you truly love a man without any expectation of reward or mutual feeling, the type of love Helen Fisher calls 'agape', it is even more painful to apprehend that your feelings mean absolutely nothing to anyone. It is even worse when you don't have any friends you could talk to, when you are very unsociable, introvert, quiet. Hopefully, I was reading the chapters on what stages a heart-broken person usually goes through and how to cope with your passion, and it really helped me a lot. The trick to count back from a large number in increments of 7 really helped me from slipping into a clinical depression. The book has encouraged me to take it one step at a time, day by day, make plans for the future, and enjoy my new life without bothering anyone around me. Moreover, it gave me hope and support that the lack of someone I could share my feelings with prevented me from having. Thank you....
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I'm always interested in what's new on the romance and love front, and get my best leads from my eMAIL to eMATE readers and my romance coaching clients. Sure enough, "Why We Love" joins my "Recommended Reading for Romantics" list. Thanks for suggesting it, Darlene! This book is a goodie.
The author Helen Fisher does a terrific job of presenting the latest information on the biochemistry of emotions and love in a fascinating and readable style. Her own theorizing on falling in love, the facts that support and lead her ideas, and poetry, literature, and contemporary examples are woven seamlessly into a readable whole. Understandably, with my psychotherapy and now romance coaching clients, I've done a lot of thinking and talking about love and romance myself. And I'm pleased to see that Fisher thoughts and the research support and parallel my own theorizing.
Fisher thinks (and the research she quotes agrees) that romantic love has played a vital and important in human survival and development. "Normal" romantic passion lasts between one and two years, which, when you think about it, is just enough time for a new couple to get pregnant, set up housekeeping, and start raising a new infant - not necessarily in that order. Then a new kind of attachment develops, hopefully, that keeps the family together to raise the child. As we well know, that is not a foolproof arrangement.
Fisher's booked is crammed with riveting detail about the physiology and biochemistry of love and attraction. Fisher also extrapolates from her data and gives advice on how to use the findings in real life. She writes about how to make romance last, how to negotiate the end of a relationship quicker and easier, and even how to encourage someone to fall in love with you as well as make yourself more receptive to the in-love state.
Some of what she says sounds terribly familiar - men like to do things together, women like to talk about it, for instance - but Fisher goes ahead and explains why. She also adds some brand-new, contemporary details, like the role or serotonin in the falling-in-love process, and how elevated levels of serotonin inhibit your ability to fall in love. For those of us (and there are millions!) who take anti-depressants that are SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, prozac is the best known), take heed. Your medications that are helping your feel better may be getting in the way romantically.
If you've wondered about romance and why men and women do what they do - and who hasn't? - Fisher has a lot of the answers. And if you want to be "in love," this book will explain the whole process. This is a "must read"!
Kathryn Lord, Romance Coach
[...]
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on May 8, 2004
From time immemorial philosophers, poets, writers, and probably anyone else who could voice an opinion have pondered over the question, what is romantic love?
In fact, if you ask someone to describe its attributes, you would probably be informed that once you experience romantic love it is difficult to control. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have fallen in love, we are well aware of some of the effects it may have on us, such as, being obsessed with our partners, distorted reality, emotional and physical dependence, personality changes, and domination of our drives to eat and sleep.
In 1996, renowned anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, with a team of behavioral scientists, set out to investigate the mystery of "being in love." Their objective was to find out why we love, why we choose the people that we choose, the differences between male and female feelings as it pertains to romance, animal love, love at first sight, love and lust, love and marriage, evolution of love, love and hate, and the brain in love.
The culmination of this study has now been summed in Dr. Fisher's book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.

In order to scientifically study these themes, Dr. Fisher and her team used the newest technology for brain scanning known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The team endeavored to record men and women's brain activity, after they had just fallen madly in love. The principal objective was to record the range of feelings associated with "being in love."
Dr. Fisher's findings are extremely interesting, particularly the observations she and her team were able to make with their brain scanner concerning the different brain regions that become active when their subjects felt romantic ecstasy.
A strong believer in the theory that romantic love is a universal human feeling that produces specific chemicals and networks in the brain; the author was determined to discover what effect these chemicals and networks had on the human brain. Consequently, her study focused on collecting scientific data on the chemistry and brain circuitry of romantic love, and more particularly on dopamine and norepinephrine, as well as a related brain substance, serotonin.
Dr. Fisher states that the reason why she concentrated on these chemicals was because the "attraction animals feel for particular mates is linked with elevated levels of dopamine and/or norepinephrine in the brain." Moreover, as she states, "all three of these chemicals produce many of the sensations of human romantic passions."
The method used by Dr. Fisher and her team was to ask their love-smitten subjects to look at a photograph of his or her beloved, and secondly to look at another photograph of an acquaintance who generated no positive or negative romantic feelings. Pictures were taken of the brain and blood flows in the brain were also recorded.
Dr. Fisher's observations are presented in an engaging style devoid of technical terms, and will go a long way with its interesting insights in helping us understand more about romantic love.
Moreover, this fascinating analysis of romantic love reveals a great deal more about the subject than we may have initially perceived.
As a side note, I found it somewhat amusing that Dr. Fisher had prefaced her chapters with quotes from many literary giants as Shakespeare, Yeats, Shelley, Dickens, and others who have written about romantic love.
Many of these quotes only reconfirm Dr. Fisher's scientific findings, and will probably seduce readers in rushing back to read the romantic writings of these literary figures.
Norm Goldman Editor of Bookpleasures.com
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on April 15, 2004
Love, the poets tell us, is as elusive as a butterfly. Such an ephemeral concept presented a nearly irresistible challenge to anthropologist Fisher, who set out to prove that love indeed could be quantified and analyzed as if it were a tangible commodity. Commanding sophisticated methodology, from MRIs to EEGs, and complex blood analyses to comprehensive psychological surveys, Fisher employed all the technological tools of the trade to determine the difference between love and lust, between the desire for romance and the demand to reproduce. Birds and bees do, in fact, do it, and men, it turns out, are not from Mars, nor women from Venus. Love, Fisher concludes, is the product of a chemical quagmire and the result of a sociological imperative as ancient as cavemen and as elemental as amoebas. Entertainingly balancing poetic plaudits with scientific sanctions, Fisher presents both the chemistry behind love's rashest behavior and the understanding necessary to weather the emotional upheavals associated with falling in love.
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on March 21, 2004
Helen Fisher is witty, wise and accessible. As a longtime fan of her writing, I have to wonder about reviewers who deride the notion of staying attractive and smiling more. It may sound like "fluff" but the point of romance is to feel happy and sexually aroused -- and to keep your mate in that mood as well. If you care more about getting a good interest rate on your mutually owned property, then this book might not be for you. If you want to agonize about gender politics while pushing a stroller, it's also not for you. But if you are intrigued by love, if you want to be smart about your personal life while also having some FUN while you are still alive this is a great read. I find the bitterness and negativity expressed by some people very sad -- romantic pleasure is a wonderful thing. Without it, we run the risk of turning into negative prunes. This book is a great antidote to the prunelike social forces who conspire against romantic/erotic love. Dr Fisher is helping to keep Eros on the agenda.
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