Is Love Getting Help from Dot-Coms?

Can the Internet be a tool for helping people find real love?

Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and adviser to a sister website of Match.com, certainly thinks so. In less than two decades, online match-making has become a part of the relationship landscape.

A survey by Match.com last year found that one in six recently married couples had met through an online dating site, though finding mates through family or friends, or work or school, remained more common.

Fisher recently came out with her fifth book on the subject of human relationships, called "Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love." The book draws on her years of research in the area of nature and the biological underpinnings of why humans experience lust, romantic attraction and deep attachment.

As part of her research, Fisher put around 50 people through magnetic resonance imaging scanners to study their brains. Some had just fallen in love, others had just been rejected. And still others had been in love for 21 years or more.

"I'm trying to map human personality and then watch who you're chemically drawn to," Fisher said. "What happens to the brain when you fall madly in love? What happens to the brain when you're rejected?"

The professor who has 35 years of experience studying why and how humans are attracted to each other has taken her wisdom to the world of online dating.

A few years ago, she developed a probing questionnaire for the website Chemistry.com. The personality test helps people learn about themselves and find compatible partners, which has been made increasingly efficient by the Internet. More than 8 million people have taken Fisher's test on the site.

In follow-up surveys of thousands of people who've used Chemistry.com, more than 80 percent have reported that they would go out on second dates with the people found for them, Fisher said.

For a more of an in depth look on Fisher's perspective of the nature and science of love, and how online dating has affected love, read the following interview below.

Question: Internet dating sites used to be sources for jokes and even derision for people who used them, but it seems they've come a long way in the last decade. How have they evolved?

Answer: I am not at all surprised that Match and Chemistry have become so rapidly... mainstream in 15 years. I think they represent major trends in our modern world. Even 15 years ago, you tended to marry the girl you met in high school and the boy you met in college. These days we're marrying later, we're not marrying the girl we met in high school. A great many people are divorcing. It's just a cheap easy safe way to meet people. They shouldn't call them dating sites. They should call them introducing sites. They provide the newest way to do the same old thing, which is places to meet people.

Q: Is online dating drawing on any evolutionary or biological instincts?

A: In many respects, we're going back to the way we used to be introduced. They're the kind of introductions we had millions of years ago. We traveled in small packs. You knew about people before you went out with them. The brain was not built to walk into a bar, where you know nobody, and start a conversation. That's not the way humanity has courted. In many respects, with Internet dating, getting to know a little bit about somebody before you meet them is really compatible with how the brain is built.

Q: How effective is Chemistry.com and Match.com at helping people find happy partners?

A: There are two things I do know: when somebody leaves Match.com or Chemistry.com, they ask you why you left. One box you can check is, "I found somebody." Between 15 and 20 percent of people check that box. Now, what I found on Chemistry.com is something different. I asked them after the first date to come back to me and tell us about how the date went. I ask four questions: Was the person on time? Was the person dressed appropriately? Did the person seem to express interest in you? And would you go out with this person again? And 81 percent of people checked they would go out with this person again.

Q: How do you feel about being an academic and a researcher who's gotten into this business of online matchmaking?

A: I never thought I'd be in this business. I'm just thrilled when I get a [thank you] letter from somebody. I'm not selling soap. I'm selling life's most important prize, which is a mating partner and a companion.

Q: You've said that humans have evolved three core brain systems for mating and reproduction: lust, romantic attraction and attachment. Did these feelings or drives evolve for any evolutionary advantages?

A: Oh, absolutely. All mammals have this but they express them in different ways. In one of my books, I write about attraction in other animals.... We inherited this brain system that makes us attracted to one person or another, which we come to call romantic love.

Q: So, when someone calls another person their "soul mate," what do you think is going on there, from a biological and evolutionary perspective?

A: It's a combination of romantic love and a deep sense of attraction. A lot of people have been romantically in love with somebody who they feel wasn't appropriate to marry.

Q: What are the key things you've learned from studying the biology of the brain?

A: The most important things: We put people in a brain scanner: 17 who just fell in love, 15 who had been rejected, and 17 still in love after an average of 21 years of marriage. We found activity in a little part of the brain -- this area makes dopamine and sends natural stimulants to different parts of brain, creating basic traits of romantic love. The main characteristics are craving to be with somebody, and most important, real obsessive thinking.

I always thought romantic love was an emotion, but as it turns out its a drive. It comes from ancient primitive centers linked with drive and linked with wanting. I've always maintained that love was an addiction, a craving and profound addiction.

Another thing I really learned is you can remain in love long term. You've got to pick the right person -- that's where my most recent book comes in.

Q: Are you afraid that so much analysis and dissection of love will lead our society down a path of over-analysis and obsession with personality tests? What about spontaneity and serendipity?

A: It doesn't concern me at all. You can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake, but when you sit down to eat the cake, you can still enjoy it. The brain swamps it all and just goes with the powerful emotion of it. What I'm trying to do with my personality test is to enable people to kiss fewer frogs.

Q: Many people see love as something that's deeply spiritual and, in many ways, a blessing from a higher power. How does that square -- or not -- with a biological and evolutionary view of love?

A: There's biology in everything, even when you're feeling spiritual ... We have millions of people who are suffering from rejection, who are committing suicide or homicide because of lost love, who are slipping into depression. We need to understand how this affects people.