‘'Why I believe technology deepens love'’
Biological anthropologist and a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. Chief Scientific Adviser to Match.com. Author of six books on the relationship between neuroscience, evolution and romantic habits.
Many believe dating websites are making us more superficial. But they are not changing who we choose to love — and by encouraging us to be cautious, they are improving our relationships.
I was recently travelling in New Guinea and talking with a man who had three wives. I asked him, ‘How many wives would you like to have?’ There was this long pause and I thought: ‘Is he going to say five? Is he going to say 10? Is he going to say 25?’
He leaned towards me and whispered: ‘None’.
Eighty-six percent of human societies permit a man to have several wives: polygyny. But in the vast majority of these cultures, only about five or ten percent of men actually do have several wives.
The dating sites can give you various people, but the only real algorithm is your own human brain
We are a pair-bonding species. Ninety-seven percent of mammals do not pair up to rear their young; human beings do. Adultery is very common around the world, but we are built to love.
How is technology changing love? Almost not at all. We have evolved three distinctly different brain systems for mating and reproduction. They evolved over 4.4 million years ago, and they are not going to change if you swipe left or right on Tinder.
Technology is changing the way we court: emailing, texting, emojis, sexting, ‘liking’ a photograph, selfies. We are seeing new rules and taboos. But is this dramatically changing love? What about the late 1940s, when the automobile became popular and we suddenly had rolling bedrooms? How about the introduction of the birth control pill?
Even dating sites are not changing love. These are not dating sites, they are introducing sites. When you sit down in a bar, in a coffee house, on a park bench, your ancient brain snaps into action. You smile, laugh, listen and parade the way our ancestors did 100,000 years ago. The dating sites can give you various people, but the only real algorithm is your own human brain.
Technology is also not going to change who you choose to love. We have natural patterns of mate choice. Curious, creative people need people like themselves. Traditional people go for traditional people. In other cases, opposites attract. People who tend to be analytical, logical, direct and decisive go for somebody who has very good verbal and people skills, who is intuitive, nurturing and emotionally expressive.
But technology is producing one modern trend I find particularly important. For millions of years, we lived in little hunting and gathering groups. You did not have the opportunity to choose between 1,000 people on a dating site. I have been studying this recently, and I think there is a sweet spot in the brain. From reading a lot of the data, we can embrace about five to nine alternatives; after that, you get into ‘cognitive overload’ and do not choose any.
So I have come to think we are ushering in a new form of courtship that I call ‘slow love’.
Every year, in a study of singles in America, I see some of the same patterns: over 50% have lived with a person long-term before marrying. Americans think this is reckless. I have doubted that for a long time. There has got to be some Darwinian explanation — not that many people are crazy.
And 67% of singles in America today who are living long-term with somebody have not yet married. They are terrified of the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of divorce. I do not think this is recklessness; I think it is caution. Today’s singles want to know everything about a partner before they wed. We are seeing an expansion of the pre-commitment stage before you tie the knot.
In an age where we have too many choices, we have very little fear of pregnancy and disease and no feeling of shame for sex before marriage, I think people are taking their time to love.
This is an extract from a TED talk delivered by Dr Helen Fisher, ‘Technology hasn’t changed love. Here’s why.’ Follow the link under Become An Expert to watch it in full.
- Do dating sites and apps make us shallower or improve our romantic relationships?
- Write an online dating profile for your favourite fictional character or a famous person you admire.
- This was first approved in the USA in 1960; it became available to all women in Britain in 1961. It is often seen as one of the most revolutionary changes of the 20th century, as it allowed women to be freer in their sexual habits — helping to change the roles of men and women.
- Dr Fisher’s research suggests these are linked to the brain’s hormonal systems. For example, those whose dopamine system is strong tend to be curious, creative, spontaneous and energetic. People with strong serotonin systems tend to be traditional and conventional: they follow the rules, respect authority and are more likely to be religious.
- Analytical people tend to display traits closely linked to the brain’s testosterone system.
- These people tend to display traits closely linked to the brain’s oestrogen system.
- Cognitive overload
- This happens when the brain is unable to process information because there is too much of it.
- Conducted by Match.com, who have surveyed 5,000 people, choosing a representative sample of the US population, each year for the last six years.