Over at Chemistry.com, a new site launched by Match.com, short-term attraction is already built into the system. This competitor of eHarmony’s was developed with help from Match.com’s chief scientific adviser, Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, whose research focuses on the brain physiology of romantic love and sexuality. Chemistry.com is currently assembling a multidisciplinary group of psychologists, relationship counselors, sociologists, neuroscientists, and sexologists to serve as consultants.
The company sought out Fisher precisely because its market research revealed that although a large segment of singles wanted a scientific approach, they didn’t want it to come at the expense of romantic chemistry. “On most of the other sites, there’s this notion of ‘fitness matching,’ ” Fisher said from her office in New York City. “You may have the same goals, intelligence, good looks, political beliefs. But you can walk into a room, and every one of those boys might come from the same background, have the same level of intelligence, and so on, and maybe you’ll talk to three but won’t fall in love with any of them. And with the fourth one, you do. What creates that chemistry?”
It’s a constellation of factors, Fisher told me. Sex drive, for instance, is associated with the hormone testosterone in both men and women. Romantic love is associated with elevated activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine and probably also another one, norepinepherine. And attachment is associated with the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. “It turns out,” she said, “that seminal fluid has all of these chemicals in it. So I tell my students, ‘Don’t have sex if you don’t want to fall in love.’ ”
Romantic love, Fisher maintains, is a basic mating drive—more powerful than the sex drive. “If you ask someone to go to bed with you, and they reject you,” she says, “you don’t kill yourself. But if you’re rejected in love, you might kill yourself.”
For Chemistry.com’s matching system, Fisher translated her work with neurotransmitters and hormones into discrete personality types. “I’ve always been extremely impressed with Myers-Briggs,” she said, referring to the personality assessment tool that classifies people according to four pairs of traits: Introversion versus Extroversion, Sensing versus Intuition, Thinking versus Feeling, and Judging versus Perceiving. “They had me pinned to the wall when I took the test, and my sister, too. So when Chemistry.com approached me, I said to myself, ‘I’m an anthropologist who studies brain chemistry, what do I know about personality?’ ”
Turns out she knew quite a bit: Genes for the activity of dopamine are associated with motivation, curiosity, anxiety, and optimism. Genes for the metabolism of serotonin, another neurotransmitter, tend to modulate one’s degree of calm, stability, popularity, and religiosity. Testosterone is associated with being rational, analytical, exacting, independent, logical, rank-oriented, competitive, irreverent, and narcissistic. And the hormone estrogen is associated with being imaginative, creative, insightful, humane, sympathetic, agreeable, flexible, and verbal.