As the saying goes, “love defies all calculation”
Can the application of science to unravel the biological basis of love complement the traditional, romantic ideal of finding a soul mate?
Yet, this apparently obvious assertion is challenged by the intrusion of science into matters of love, including the application of scientific analysis to modern forms of courtship. An increasing number of dating services boast about their use of biological research and genetic testing to better match prospective partners. Yet, while research continues to disentangle the complex factors that make humans fall in love, the application of this research remains dubious.
…while research continues to disentangle the complex factors that make humans fall in love, the application of this research remains dubious
With the rise of the internet and profound changes in contemporary lifestyles, online dating has gained enormous popularity among aspiring lovers of all ages. Long working hours, increasing mobility and the dissolution of traditional modes of socialization mean that people use chat rooms and professional dating services to find partners. Despite the current economic downturn, the online dating industry continues to flourish. With subscription prices between €20 and €30 per month, romance-seekers are turning away from the traditional-and often expensive-strategies of meeting people casually in bars and restaurants, and are instead opting for less spontaneous, but practical, cheap online services that allow them to find a soul mate from the comfort of their desk.
, one of the most popular websites that facebook dating profile search match people according to their hobbies, preferences and interests, has increased annual profits 30-fold since 2006 and has made around ?6 million in revenues this year (Espinoza, 2009). Large metropolitan cities boast the highest number of active online dating accounts, with New York totalling a greater number of subscriptions on Match than any other city in the USA-accounting for 8% of the company’s active members (Sherman, 2009).
Most dating services match subscribers based on metrics that include education and professional background, personal interests, hobbies, values, relationship skills and life goals. These websites use a range of personality tests and psychological assessments to build lists of traits that individuals seek in an ideal partner. Yet, in this modern era of personalized genomes and DNA-based crime fighting, the new generation of online dating services has added one more parameter: biology. “Love is no coincidence”, they proclaim, promising to provide longer-lasting matches based on the science of attraction and romantic love.
Indeed, biological anthropologists and neuroscientists are already dissecting the chemical ingredients of love, from the basic sex drive to romantic love, including the feeling of security that we achieve when we are attached to a specific mate for the long term (Bartels & Zeki, 2000; 2004; Fisher et al, 2002; Zeki, 2007). Such studies aim to unravel both the genetic factors and the neural circuits that underlie love. So far, scientists have revealed that the relevant regions of the brain are mainly those involved in motivational and reward systems and are orchestrated by hormones and neurotransmitters (Aaron et al, 2005). Love has accordingly been described as a chemical phenomenon and compared with a state of addiction (Meloy & Fisher, 2005).
“We fall in love with someone who has a different chemical profile for dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone that complements our own,” explained Helen Fisher, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University (New York, NY, USA) and chief scientific advisor to Chemistry. She created a test for the website-used by about eight million people to date-in which questions are designed to establish a range of basic information about brain and body chemistry associated with specific aspects of temperament and personality. For instance, measuring the ratio between the length of the index finger and the ring finger of the right hand, which is a marker for testosterone levels in the prenatal brain, is assumed to provide information about assertive, verbal, musical or analytical capabilities (Wilson, 1983). Other questions determine a propensity to be curious or a tendency to seek ine levels in the brain.