By Andrea Kane, CNN
(CNN) — Humans are hardwired to love, according to biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher. She is a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute who has spent much of her career studying love and attachment.
This drive is so essential and buried so deeply in our brains, Fisher said, it actually lives right next to the circuitry that controls some of our most basic functions.
“The little factory that pumps out the dopamine that gives you the feeling of romantic love — called the ventral tegmental area or VTA — it lies right next to the factory that orchestrates thirst and hunger,” she told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his podcast, Chasing Life.
“It’s way below the cortex where you do your thinking, way below the limbic areas with the emotions. It’s in a basic brain region linked with drive, with craving, with focus, with motivation, with optimism,” Fisher said. “Thirst and hunger keep you alive today. Romantic love drives you to form a partnership and send your DNA into tomorrow.”
While our need for love may not have changed in hundreds of thousands of years, the tools to find it have, especially with the advent and ubiquity of dating apps.
Match.com hired Fisher in 2005 to unravel the mystery of why people are attracted to specific others and how to predict it. And she used hard science to do it, conducting functional magnetic resonance imaging to peer deeply into the neural systems associated with these states.
“I and my colleagues have put over 100 people into the brain scanner using fMRI and studied the brain circuitry of romantic love and attachment,” she said. She zeroed in on four brain systems: dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone.
Based on that work, she developed the Fisher Temperament Inventory — a personality test that scores participants based on those four brain systems and maps them to personality traits, sorting people into categories of explorers, builders, negotiators and directors.
Fisher then used the information to figure out who was attracted to whom. The idea was that knowing your category might help you better decipher the kind of person with whom you might be most compatible.
To hear more about the different brain systems involved in love and attraction, listen to the full episode of Chasing Life here:
So can attraction, desire and compatibility really be predicted by the algorithms used by dating apps?
“It’s so complicated, but the bottom line is we do see patterns,” Fisher said. “There (are) patterns to personality, there (are) patterns to nature, there (are) patterns to culture. And yes, I do think that I can at least introduce somebody to somebody who’s a better possibility.”
Fisher offered these tips for increasing your odds of finding that “better possibility” when you swipe.
1. Understand the purpose of the app
These apps are not dating apps, per se.
“All they do is introduce you. That’s all they do,” Fisher said, adding that she prefers to call them “introducing” apps but jokingly admits the term probably won’t take off. “And then it’s incumbent on you to go out, meet the person. And the human brain is — we are — built to try and figure out who somebody is.”
2. Less is definitely more
Do not binge on the app. Your brain is not built for it.
“The brain, as you know, is built to cope with about five to nine choices,” Fisher said. “And then it’s cognitive overload — or what’s called the paradox of choice — and you choose nothing. You just get overloaded, and you choose nothing.”
She advised, “After you have met nine people — and I mean met, either through video chatting or in person met them — stop, get off the site.”
3. Climb out on the proverbial limb
Whether it’s in person or through video chat, get to know at least one of those five to nine people better.
“There’s good psychological data that the more you get to know somebody, the more you can like them and the more you can think that they are like you,” she said.
For 12 years, Fisher has conducted the Singles in America study, a survey based on the attitudes and behaviors taken from a demographically representative sample of 5,000 US singles between the ages of 18 to 98, funded by Match. It contains the question: Have you ever met somebody whom you initially did not find attractive and eventually fell in love with?
“Every year it’s gone up. This past year, 49% said, ‘Yes.’ They had originally started out going out with somebody they did not find attractive and eventually … fell madly in love with them,” she said. “You have to give the brain a chance.”
4. Think of reasons to say ‘yes’
Resist the tendency to remember the negative over the positive.
“The brain is built to remember the negative,” Fisher said, calling it a survival mechanism.
“So when you go on these introducing sites and you’ve just met somebody, you have very little information about them. So you overweight the information,” she said. “And you’ll say to yourself, ‘Ah, he likes cats and I like dogs. (It’ll) never work!’ Or ‘Ah, she’s wearing those bizarre brown shoes. I could never introduce her to my friends.’”
“Try and think of reasons to say yes,” Fisher said.
5. Don’t hurry, be happy
Take the time to learn about yourself as well as prospective partners.
“Every single part of the life cycle is slowing down,” Fisher said. “Childhood has gotten longer. Young adulthood has gotten longer. Middle age has gotten longer. And senior life has gotten longer. They are spread out.”
Members of Generation Z and millennials have pushed marriage later than previous generations, giving them time to discover who they are, what they want and what they don’t want, Fisher said. She called this process “slow love.”
“They’ve got this long period of ‘slow love’ in which they’re trying (people) out,” she said.
“As it turns out, the later you marry, the more likely you are to remain together. The longer you court, the later you wed, the more likely you are to remain together. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”
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CNN Audio’s Madeleine Thompson contributed to this report.