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Erin Murray

Kyle Rasmussen

James Pittman



Anatomy of Love, Chapters 1 & 2: Summary


      In the first two chapters of Anatomy of Love, Helen E. Fisher examines the roles of courtship and infatuation in human life and explains their possible evolutionary background. In chapter one of Anatomy of Love, Fisher discusses the methods used by human males and females in the process of courtship and their reproductive functions.  She begins by specifically examining the art of flirtation as it is expressed by both sexes.  Beginning with what is referred to as “Body Talk,” Fisher claims that some patterns of female flirting are cross-cultural such as smiling, lifting the eyebrows, wide-eyed gazing, and looking away, (20).  Also typical to the female strategy is the use of the head to “signal sexual interest” (20).  The female will give her suitor a coy look or toss her hair.  Evidence that other female species exhibit similar movements with their heads while attracting mates suggests that such actions may be evolutionary.  Males apparently use body language that is similar to the type that is used to indicate dominance, such as arching the back and thrusting the upper body forward.  Similarly, males in other species “puff up” in order to intimidate rivals and attract potential mates, (21).

      Another component of flirting, “the copulatory gaze,” is apparent mainly “in Western cultures, where eye contact between the sexes is permitted” (22).  A clear sign of interest is seen in the dilating of the pupils.  Eye contact appears to have an instantaneous effect on the brain.  “The gaze triggers a primitive part of the human brain, calling forth one of two basic emotions-- approach or retreat” (22).  The fact that certain primates display similar behavior with eye contact suggests that this gaze could have a correlation with evolutionary adaptations.  The author notes specifically that it is often the gaze that motivates a person to smile.

Humans have “at least eighteen distinctive types of smiles, only some of which we use while courting” (23).  The “simple smile” is expressed generally as an ordinary acknowledgment characterized by the closed mouth and tight lips, (23).  The “upper smile,” which bares the top teeth, indicates a higher degree of interest, (23).  Full exposure of both the top and bottom teeth is known as the “open smile” and generally signifies the highest degree of interest in flirting, (23).  In contrast, the “nervous social smile,” characterized by clenched teeth, is typically a negative expression in courtship, (24).

Fisher further examines the concept of the universality of courting cues and refers to Darwin’s theory that “joy, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear, and many other human feelings were expressed in panhuman gestural patterns inherited from a common evolutionary past” (25).  As an example, Fisher notes that the smile is a natural expression that is not learned by imitation since babies born blind display the same inclination to grin as do babies born with sight.  Fisher suggests that all such expressions and gestures probably evolved as a means of attracting a future mate, (25).

In order to examine the courting behaviors of males and females, Fisher looks to a study done by two scientists, David Givens and Timothy Perper, in which American men and women were observed in their natural flirting environment, cocktail lounges.  The two scientists concluded that there are five distinct stages of courtship.  During the first or “attention getting” phase, both men and women begin by establishing “a territory—a seat, a place to lean… Once settled, they begin to attract attention to themselves” (26).  From there, men and women differ in their strategies.  Men tend to exaggerate gestures or walk in a manner that draws attention to themselves, and older men often attempt to reveal signs of success such as wearing expensive clothing.  Women combine an array of different feminine behaviors into their strategy such as tilting their heads, giggling, walking a certain way, arching their backs, thrusting their chests forward, and swaying their hips.

The second stage is known as the “recognition” stage during which the two people acknowledge each other through eye contact and “a smile or slight body shift, and the couple move into talking range” (27).  The third and most risky stage is the initiation of conversation, referred to as “grooming talk” that includes icebreakers such as compliments or questions that both necessitate a response,(27).  If a couple converses successfully, they are likely to move on to the fourth stage, touch, which begins with “intention cues” where one or both people lean closer to each other decreasing the space between them until one person finally touches the other in a way that is socially acceptable.  Reaction in stage four is crucial.  Withdrawal generally ends the interaction, but encouragement can lead to the fifth stage, “total body synchrony” (29). 

The scientists noticed that in the last stage, “as potential lovers become comfortable, they pivot or swivel until their shoulders become aligned, their bodies face-to-face… after awhile the man and woman begin to move in tandem” (29).  Fisher reminds the reader that such studies do not indicate that these behaviors are cross-cultural since they were only conducted in the United States.  She does, however, claim that there is “evidence to suggest that some of these patterns are universal to humankind” (29).  There are several examples of body synchrony in particular that are cross-cultural and that are displayed not as a means of attracting a sexual partner but also as a sign of familiarity and comfort between friends.

In her study, Fisher notices that people court one another slowly and cautiously in order to avoid being overly aggressive and possibly discouraging the other person from desiring further interaction.  She also draws attention to the idea that, although it is a common belief that it is most often men who initiate sexual advances, it is really women (in America) who “generally initiate the courting sequence—starting with subtle nonverbal cues” (32).  In her own research, Fisher has found that the sex drives expressed by both males and females are essentially the same.  What men usually presume to be the initiation of courtship is really what Perper refers to as “initiative transfer” where the male responds to the female’s nonverbal cues and proceeds to make moves in an attempt to entice the woman into a sexual relationship, (33).  Both parties are very important to the courting sequence because if either person misses a cue it can end the courtship process.

The final characteristics that Fisher noted as being a unique part of the process of flirting and possibly universal are the uses of both food and music in the process of courtship.  Fisher uses the example of “the dinner date” in which a male pays for dinner to signify that he is interested in pursuing the female.  The author claims that “courtship feeding… has an important reproductive function.  By providing food to females, males show their abilities as hunters, providers, and worthy procreative partners” (35).  Lastly, Fisher mentions a cross-cultural link between music and attracting a mate and even ventures to say that musical flirting is not exclusive to humans, that many of the sounds made by various animals serve as powerful signs of courtship as well.

Chapter two of Anatomy of Love deals with infatuation and attempts to answer the question of why people choose one particular person to be an object of infatuation over another.  In the 1960’s, psychologist Dorothy Tennov identified “characteristics common to this condition of ‘being in love’” (38).  Tennov described the first phase of the process as the moment when the other person begins to have a new type of significance or “special meaning” (38).  Next is “intrusive thinking” where thoughts of this particular person increasingly begin to interfere with the normal everyday thoughts of the infatuated person, (38).  Following this is what Tennov calls crystallization.  The author notes that “crystallization is distinct from idealization in that the infatuated person does indeed perceive the weaknesses of his or her idol… but they simply cast these flaws aside or convinced themselves that these defects were unique and charming” (39).  Daydreams are common during infatuation and often reflect feelings of hope and uncertainty.  Encouragement from the other person can cause the infatuated person to constantly replay memories of the event in daydreams, while any sign of rejection could just as easily turn uncertainty to depression. Other primary emotions of infatuation include “shyness, fear of rejection, anticipation, longing for reciprocity… the feeling of helplessness, (and) the sense that this passion was irrational, involuntary, unplanned, uncontrollable” (40).

In an attempt to unveil some sensible explanations for infatuation, Fisher looks first to the effects of odor on the senses suggesting that smell can provoke infatuation.  “As newborn infants we can recognize our mother by smell, and as we grow up we come to detect over ten thousand different odors” (41).  Aside from humans, animals attract sexual partners through the use of smell as well.  Fisher presents examples of how strong body odor in various cultures has been used in attempts to attract members of the opposite sex.  In one study, it was found that the scent of male sweat was able to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle, “an important aspect of fertility potential” (42).  This finding suggests that during ovulation, a woman is unconsciously more receptive to the odor of men and is therefore more likely to experience infatuation.  To estimate the effects of the female smell on males, Fisher looks first at the evidence of the female odor as it effects other females living in close proximity to one another.  The results show that such women are likely to experience “synchronized menstrual cycles” (43).  If the odors of women are able to have such an effect on other women, it is likely that men also undergo unconscious susceptibility to such smells.  The physical and psychological responses caused by odors is a result of olfactory neurons that are connected with the limbic system, a part of the brain that controls “fear, rage, hate, ecstasy, and lust” (43).

Although Fisher recounts several examples of the effects of smell on attraction and infatuation, she notes that opinions held regarding body odor are not cross-culturally consistent.  Several cultures perceive perspiration as undesirable and prefer “commercially made aromas,” but the effects of odors on attraction are still evident, (44). 

Another possible reason that people favor one type of person over another is that all people develop over the years what John Money refers to as a “love map” (44).  A love map is a collection of preferences acquired over time as a response to “family, friends, experiences, and chance associations” that eventually serves as a model for personal likes and dislikes.  When a person finds someone who fits adequately into his/her perception of an ideal person, it is likely that he/she will become infatuated even though “the recipient generally deviates considerably from the actual ideal” (45).  Preferred physical characteristics vary from person to person and culture to culture, but Fisher claims that there do exist a few common traits that invoke sexual appeal cross-culturally.  These traits include clear complexions, the perception of cleanliness, and wide hips in women.  David Buss found that, in general, “men are attracted to young, good-looking, spunky women, while women are drawn to men with goods, property, or money” (47).  This possibly arose out of the fact that it is to the male’s reproductive advantage to mate with females who exhibit signs of health and vitality for producing offspring. While it is in the female’s reproductive interest to mate with males who show signs of power and success necessary for providing resources to the offspring. 

Infatuation appears to thrive on mystery, unfamiliarity, and the thrill of the chase.  Often obstacles that impede a couple’s opportunity to be together excite interest and increase infatuation.  Timing is also crucial as people tend to fall in love only after “one had become ready to shower attention on a love object” (48).  Also, people are most likely to become interested in people who share common characteristics.

Fisher defines “love at first sight” as the arrangement of all these conditions, “timing, barriers, mystery, similarities, a matched love map, even the right smells,” occurring all at once.  The author rejects the notion that romantic love is not cross-cultural and cites several examples of love occurring in cultures where love is not particularly acknowledged or permitted.  Fisher even goes on to note characteristics in animals that parallel features of infatuation in order to suggest a type of adaptive function of love at first sight.  “Perhaps love at first sight is no more than an inborn tendency in many creatures that evolved to spur the mating process” (51).

In order to explain the physical changes in the brain that occur during stages of infatuation, Fisher explains that a molecule known as phenylethylamine (PEA) is responsible for “feelings of elation, exhilaration, and euphoria” when neurons in the limbic system are stimulated by these molecules, (52).  In studying the direct effect of PEA on the brain, scientists gave people whom they considered “romance junkies” or people who constantly desire relationships, MAO inhibitors to increase PEA levels in their brains.  Consequently, patients appeared to change their behavior regarding romantic relationships.  Again, Fisher mentions the effect that PEA has on animals as well, noting a link between lively behavior and levels of PEA in the animal’s brain.

In response to the dispute over whether or not infatuation is solely a result of chemical interactions in the brain, Fisher addresses the nature/nurture controversy acknowledging the role that culture plays in the process of love.  She explains that “cultural events determine whom you love, when you love, where you love.  But after you find that special person, it is probably PEA and/or other natural neurochemicals in the brain that direct how you feel as you love” (55-56).  The physical aspect of infatuation gives credibility to the notion that such physical responses have evolved over time.

The feeling of infatuation apparently concludes with either a “feeling of neutrality” or the feeling of attachment, (56).  Tennov concluded that the time during which infatuation transforms into the feeling of neutrality is “between approximately eighteen months and three years” due to the brain’s limited capacity to endure the high levels of PEA (57).  If a couple is able to weather this transition, they enter the attachment phase characterized by a feeling of warmth and security in the relationship.  In this phase, endorphins take over the role of PEA producing a calming effect on the body.  According to Fisher, there has been no conclusions made about the duration of the attachment phase either in the physical reactions of the brain or the relationship itself.



















































Anatomy of Love:  Chapter 1


I.  Body Talk:  Courting and flirting behaviors as a product of evolution.

            A.  Females share common patterns of flirting cross-culturally

                        1.  Female animals exhibit similar behavior

            B.  Males share common patterns of flirting cross-culturally

                        1.  “Standing Tall” -- shows dominance

II.  The Copulatory Gaze:  In Western cultures where eye contact is permitted

            A.  Dilating of the pupils shows interest

            B.  Gaze triggers two basic emotions -- approach or retreat

            C.  Primates also use eye contact to threaten enemies or court mates

            D.  Gaze motivates the human smile

III.  At least 18 different forms of the human smile (only some used in courting)

            A.  Simple Smile -- simple acknowledgment

            B.  Upper Smile -- higher degree of interest

            C.  Open Smile -- highest degree of interest

            D.  Nervous Social Smile -- negative expression in courtship

IV.  Universality of courting cues is supported by Darwin’s theory.

A.  “Joy, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear, and many other human                                feelings were expressed in panhuman gestural patterns inherited from a common evolutionary past”

                        1.  The smile is a natural expression, not learned

                        2.  Gestures may have evolved to attract a mate

V.  Five Stages of Courtship (In America)

            A.  Attention Getting Stage

                        1.  Both males & females: establish a territory

                        2.  Both: attract attention to themselves

                        3.  Males: exaggerate gestures, reveal signs of success

                        4.  Females: tilting the head, giggling, arching the back, swaying the hips

            B.  Recognition Stage

                        1.  Acknowledgment through eye contact, smile or body shift

            C.  Grooming Talk

                        1.  Initiation of conversation

            D.  Touch

                        1.  Begins with “intention cues”

                        2.  Reaction determines whether or not flirting proceeds to the next stage

            E.  Total Body Synchrony

                        1.   As the comfort level rises, potential mates begin to move the same

                        2.  Signs of rhythmic mimicry in infants and other animals

VI.  Does sexual initiation begin with males or females?

A.  (at least in America) It is generally females who initiate the courting sequence with nonverbal cues

            B.  Sex drives of males and females are essentially equal

            C.  It is in the female’s reproductive interest to seek sex

            D.  What men perceive as initiation is usually “initiative transfer”

VII.  Evolutionary function of courtship feeding & music: The Dinner Date

A.  Reproductive function:  By giving the female food, males show their                         abilities as hunters, providers, and worthy procreative partners.

B.  Cross-cultural link between music and attracting a mate:  many animal         sounds are powerful signs of courtship


Chapter 2: Infatuation


I.  Characteristics common to “being in love”

            A.  Person begins to take on a special meaning

            B.  Intrusive thinking:  thoughts of this person dominate thinking

C.  Crystallization:  able to perceive flaws in this person but convinced that any defects are charming

D.  Reaction of the object of infatuation has great impact on the other person.

E.  Emotions of Infatuation: shyness, fear of rejection, anticipation, longing for reciprocity, feeling of helplessness, the sense that this passion is irrational, involuntary, unplanned, and uncontrollable

II.  How odor effects infatuation

            A.  Evolutionary role

                        1.  Infants recognize mother by smell

                        2.  Animals attract sexual partners through the use of smell

            B.  During ovulation, a woman is unconsciously more receptive to the odor of men

C.  Females living in close proximity to one another experience synchronized menstrual cycles

D.  Physical and psychological responses caused by odors is a result of olfactory neurons that are connected with the limbic system

            E.  Opinions of odor varies cross-culturally

III.  Over the years, people develop a love map (collection of preferences)

            A.  Infatuation may occur if a person fits the model adequately

            B.  Love maps vary from person to person and culture to culture

            C.  Some cross-cultural preferences

1.  “Men are attracted to young, good-looking, spunky women, while women are drawn to men with goods, property, or money”

                        2.  Male reproductive advantage to mate with healthy females

3.  Female reproductive advantage to mate with males who can provide for offspring

IV.  Infatuation thrives on mystery, unfamiliarity, and the thrill of the chase

            A.  Obstacles, timing, and shared characteristics play a role in infatuation


V.  Love at First Sight

            A. The arrangement of all these conditions occurring at once

                        1.  Timing, barriers, mystery, similarities, a matched love map, the right smells        

            B.  Evidence that romantic love may be cross-cultural and evolutionary

                        1.  Examples of love in cultures where it is not permitted

                        2.  Examples of infatuation in animals

VI.  Physical changes that occur in the brain during stages of infatuation

A.  Phenylethylamine (PEA): molecule responsible for feelings of elation when it stimulates neurons in the limbic system

            B.  Romance Junkies given MAO inhibitors to increase PEA levels

            C.  Link between animal behavior and level of PEA in brain

VII.  How much is due to nature?  How much is due to nurture?

            A.  “Cultural events determine whom you love, when you love, where you love”                               

B.  “After you find that special person, it is probably PEA and/or other natural neurochemicals in the brain that direct how you feel as you love”

VIII.  Infatuation only lasts approximately between 18 months and 3 years

            A.  Feeling of neutrality

            B.  Feeling of attachment

                        1.  Warmth, security

                        2.  Endorphins take over the role of PEA

                        3. No conclusion about the duration of the attachment phase

















Critical Review


Interesting or informative points


-         A smile is a natural expression, not learned.

-         Sexual drives of males and females are equal


Points disagreed with


-         The insinuation that love is no more than a physical and psychological adaptation to spur the reproductive process

-         The concept of Love at first sight being acknowledged


Still have questions about


-         The conclusion that animals experience infatuation or love

-         Infatuation lasts approximately 18mo. to 3yrs.