Dating and Mate Selection — 08 February 2009
Opposites sometimes attract

The mystery of mate attraction has always fascinated and bewildered individuals and scientists alike. Wanting to understand who is attracted to whom is based, in part, on the wish to have greater predictable power about love matches’ chances for success.

Until recently, theories about the basis of attraction between people ranged from: laws of natural selection, sexual attractiveness, need fulfillment, personality attributes, social and societal expectations, cultural and family of origin imprinting, predeterminism or divine intervention, to name a few. The many theories highlight the fascination, bewilderment and mysterious nature of attraction between mates.

With the advent of technological advancement in neuroscience research, brain imaging and genome studies, more research is being conducted to understand the physiological basis of many emotional states. Rutgers University anthropologist and long term researcher of love around the world, Dr. Helen Fisher, answers the question of mate attraction based on her neurochemical research. In her new book, “Why Him? Why Her? Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type”, she identified four neurochemicals: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen as determinants of specific personality types and their mate attraction patterns.

Dopamine –dominants Explorers are people who are curious, novelty seekers, creative, liberal, optimistic, spontaneous, mentally flexible and irreverent. Serotonin- dominants Builders are calm, conscientious, conventional, loyal, protective, persistent, cautious, fact-oriented and community minded. Testosterone-dominants Directors are logical, decisive, exacting, analytical, ambitious, competitive, tough-minded, rank-oriented and emotionally contained. Estrogen-dominants Negotiators are intuitive, imaginative, introspective, have verbal and people skills, are curious about self and others, and are emotionally expressive.

In love attraction, it is not likeness or opposing traits that determine attraction, but the prominent neurochemical within each individual that dictates the choice. Dopamine and serotonin dominants are likely to select people like themselves, while testosterone dominants select their opposites- estrogen dominants. Dr. Fisher also admits “There’ll always be a magic to love.”

The romantics among us may embrace the stance that neuroscience has no business contaminating our emotional notions of love with biochemistry. The skeptics may claim that even research done with a large sample of 28,000 Internet dating site users responding to questionnaire items, may not be the last word in discovering the mysteries of mate attraction. The science-minded devotees may be willing to accept the research findings if they can be persuaded as to their veracity. Whatever your perspective on the issue may be, it is probably also impacted by your personal experience with your own attraction history and mate selection success.

It is clear that regardless of all the contributing determinants of personal attraction, it varies from couple to couple and is a unique experience for each pair. This may explain why the matchmaking efforts of well-intentioned family and friends have routinely been unsuccessful. Others can assess general compatibility, but cannot predict attraction that is even unclear to the selector and the chosen. The mysteries of attraction will continue to fascinate humanity for years to come, and thrill the lovers who are blessed with mutual attraction and love.

• Remember that whether your attraction style has been effective or disappointing, it is uniquely yours and most likely a valuable part of your personal wellbeing.
• Do not despair if you find that your pattern of attracting or being attracted to potential mates is less than satisfactory. Seek psychological help to explore your style and improve its effectiveness.
• Be gracious about others’ well-intentioned matching efforts. Follow them if it bemuses you more than disturbs you.
• Realize that matching services, even those advertising “unique professional matching techniques” have not provided any verifiable data supportive of their claims. Use them if you wish with cautious optimism about their matchmaking efficacy.
• Realize that you do not need to understand the underpinnings of mate attraction mechanisms to feel the thrill of it when you encounter and fall in love with your future mate.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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