The Surprising Biology of Love – Podcast Interview

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Episode 1029 The Surprising Biology of Love – Interview with Dr. Liat Yakir

You have heard about the chemistry of love and today you will hear about the biology of love. The fact is our desire for love is driven by biology and how that biology works (and sometimes doesn’t) is fascinating according to my guest Dr. Liat Yakir. She is a biologist specializing in genetics and science communication and speaks frequently on the topics of the biology of human emotions. She is author of the book, A Brief History of Love: What Attracts Us, How We Fall in Love and Why Biology Screws it All Up ( Listen as she explains all this and offers a prescription for a successful relationship you may not have heard before.

Full Transcript

Today on something you should know. Valuable lessons we can learn from the parking lot at Disney World. Then the biology of love and the science behind a successful relationship.

What the data says about the highest predictor for successful relationship it has nothing to do with the other person. The predictor for my successful relationship is how satisfied I am with my life, with my career, with my friends.

Something you should know. Fascinating intel, the world’s top experts, and practical advice you can use in your life today. Something you should know with Mike Carruthers. If you’ve ever been in love or want to be in love or are, uh, curious about love, this episode is for you. You’re about to hear a really interesting conversation about the biology of love.

Hopefully, and most certainly, you have experienced different kinds of love in your life. Parental love, love of a child or a relative or a friend, romantic love, even the love of a pet. It’s all love. And humans, it seems, crave it. But as you may have noticed in your life and in the lives of everyone around you, love is problematic.

As wonderful as it can be, it can also cause a lot of trouble. Most discussions of love focus on the feelings and attitudes and beliefs about love.

But today we are taking a, uh.

Fascinating look at love through a, ah, biological lens, the biology of love. And through that lens, youll discover how to improve the love relationships in your life. And youre going to hear a prescription for better romantic love and marriage that.

Is different from what youve probably heard before.

And when you hear it, I think youll agree it really rings true. My guest is Doctor Lyat Yakir. She is a biologist specializing in genetics and science communication. She’s a highly respected keynote speaker on the topics of biology of human emotions and the evolutionary roots of human behavior. She’s author of a book called a brief history of what attracts us, how we fall in love, and why biology screws it all up.

Hi, Liat, welcome to something you should know.

Hi, Mike. Good to be here.

So tell me, first of all, what’s your working definition of love?

What is it exactly?

So, as a biologist, I see love as an emotion, the emotion of bonding and attachment to another creature. It can be the lover, children, other relationship that we had with another creature. And it’s the product of, ah, hormones, ah, that are produced in our brain and in our body, that makes us bond to each other.

And do humans crave it or we just, if we get it, we get.

It, we crave for it. We are born for love. And the main hormone here is, uh, oxytocin, the love hormone, the bonding hormone, attachment, empathy. And we are social creatures. Uh, without love, we perish. We need this hormone to relax our nervous system. Our nervous system needs another nervous system to be relaxed and to feel secure.

So we crave love.

So we call it all love. But the different kinds of love are really different. The love you feel for your child or your parent is very different than the love you feel for a romantic partner. Yet it’s all called love. And they all must deliver some reward.

Love as a relaxation asset, uh, is our bond with any creature? Yeah, even our pet. And, uh, of course, our parents and family and friends. So we crave this oxytocin, this hormone that we can get only in relationship. But the romantic love is the most complicated, and it starts at puberty, and it has three stages that we should discriminate between because it makes our life more complicated.

So the romantic love is composed of the phase of attraction, which is mainly led by testosterone and estrogen. When we start to be interested in the other sex, it takes our brain 30 seconds to decide if we are attracted sexually to a person or not, of course it’s subconscious.

And the second phase is the infatuation stage, the falling in Love, the stage that all the songs and the stories talks about, takes between 6 hours to two years. This infatuation stage. The butterflies in your belly.

6 hours to two years?



Uh, usually in average around one year, even today, even ten months, it takes us to fall in love with somebody. The infatuation phase that you feel that you cannot live without that person and you crave for their proximity. And uh, you sit by the phone for the message to come.

So this is the infatuation stage. And the last stage and the prolonged stage is the attachment. There’s no more butterflies in the belly and you don’t crave for a text message, but you feel secure and you feel relaxed and you feel attached to the person. You feel good friendship and also some desire and love, of course, but every stage is led by different hormones.

In the attraction stage, is it ever possible, does it ever happen where two people are attracted to each other, but without the sexual desire, the sexual potential.

It’S just two people just really click.

And get along but there’s no desire for sex?

Yeah, that’s a very good question, Mike. And uh, for me, as a biologist, looking at humans, as you know, in evolutionary terms, everything is about sex. So our brain is very hard wired. Especially the ancient areas are wired for sex. So when we see somebody, the ancient area of the brain are the first one to switch on.

And uh, we look at the person and we find them attractive or non attractive. And in biological terms it means will I sexually want to be around this person? And as I said, it takes the amygdala, emotion control center of the brain 30, uh, seconds to decide yes or no if I want to be with that one someone or not.

Our higher areas of the brain, like the frontal cortex, we say, uh, no, I’m not only attracted to the physical appearance of a person, I can be a sepiosexual, for example, like I’m attracted to uh, smart people with uh, people with high intelligence or high emotional intelligence. But this is the other areas of the brain that are making rationale of the attraction.

But basically it’s all about sex in nature.

When you say it’s all about sex, is it all about sex the same way for both sexes? And what I mean by that is, I think it’s just kind of a general feeling, assumption, opinion, I don’t know, that men are much more attracted to the physical and that women are, that that’s less important that.

That’s further down the list.

Yes, she still looks at the physical appearance. And, uh, when we look at their research in data, we see that women look first on parameters of height of the men, you know, b a little more higher than her before she looks at its social status. So physical attraction is very, very important also for women.

And testosterone, um, and estrogens play the role. Testosterone make men be more physically, um, in average, 15% higher in mass than women. And women look for somebody to be bigger than her, you know, feel, feel comfortable, feel, ah, like she’s protected. She will say these things, but it’s basically the attraction for higher levels of testosterone, which also will make a man look more athletic or more muscles, uh, body features of testosterone and also of estrogen.

So also women look at the physical appearance of men. But you are right, the social status is also important for women. And in all mammalian kingdom, females don’t like any male. They are attracted to the alpha male or males that show the signs of the alpha male. So they have, uh, a higher social status than the other, the dominant ones in the territory.

So still, you are right. It’s also, ah, for women. But also a man in the dating apps with the photographed with a guitar gets much more messages from women. So also music gives, uh, us good signs.

Men whose picture has a guitar, they’re holding a guitar is more attractive to women.

Yes, I guess it’s signs of making music. And oxytocin. Oxytocin is secreted when we make music. So it’s maybe more sensitive man, ah, connected to his feelings and can be a good partner and a good parent, maybe, I don’t know. But still a guitar, do it for.

Women still today, um, it’s not a conscious thing.

They don’t say, well, I find him attractive because he’s holding a guitar. Right. It’s very subconscious.

Exactly 95% of what’s happening to us, our behavior is subconscious to us. And for me, as a biologist, it is all rooted in our biology. And there is a logic behind him. In evolutionary sense, there is a logic, uh, behind it. Ah, also, men within dating apps are attracted to, of course, the physical, uh, appearance, the fertility signs of women, but also women that smiles a lot and, uh, convey in the photograph, uh, joyfulness and vitality gets more messages from men.

So men are not only looking for the physical appearance, but also for vitality signs and joyfulness and smilefulness.

When we find someone attractive, it is just that it’s only attraction. It doesn’t mean that that person would make a good partner would make a good life partner. It’s just a very initial physical or whatever, what you just described, but it.

Has nothing to do with.

And this person would make a good partner.

Exactly. That’s why I’m saying that there is no love at first sight. There is attraction from first sight, which is important, yes, but there is no love at first sight. And, uh, 10% of people they were asking in big surveys, 10% say that they knew it was it from the first sight.

And 50% say they even didn’t have attraction at first sight. So they didn’t even thought about going for another date. So we need to give a chance because love takes time. It takes time to secrete the oxytocin. It is secreted when we talk with each other, when we smile to each other, when we ask questions and talk about our lives and about our emotions and feelings.

Sometimes people really, uh, eliminate, uh, you know, after one date, and they say, I didn’t feel the attraction and that’s it. But love takes time. And when you start to secrete the oxytocin, this, uh, special love hormone, after a while you find the person more attractive than he was at the first or she was at first sight.

Because oxytocin makes us euphoric and see the other person as more attractive when we know him, it can be also for the other side. So when you find someone very attractive at first sight, but then you know him and you know that he’s not a good person and suddenly he doesn’t look so attractive.

So it’s all in our eyes and it’s all, uh, the work of hormones. So we need to give love a chance.

So there’s this thing that gets thrown into the mix of attraction and infatuation. I’d like for you to explain, and that is this idea of being hard to get, that it’s more attractive if somebody doesn’t want you, and it seems like you should want somebody who wants you and they should want somebody who wants them.

But somehow in the human brain, when someone’s hard to get, it makes them more attractive. And it doesn’t seem to make much.

Sense in evolutionary terms. It makes, in human sense, it doesn’t make sense because we should want somebody that wants us, of course. So I always say for singers, play hard to get, not too hard, of course. Don’t insult the other person, but don’t be too available, especially for women.

Sometimes we get attached or we just want to hang out with the guy and automatically he can interpret it as, oh, she’s desperate or too attachment, too needy. Dependent. Needy, exactly.

We’re discussing the biology of love, and my guest is Lyat Yakir, author of the book a brief History of Love. What attracts us, how we fall in love, and why biology screws it all up. So, liat, often the explanation you hear about the benefits of playing hard to get is that people like a challenge.

If you’re too easy to get, you’re not so desirable. That people like a, uh, challenge. Is that it? That we want to challenge?

Yes, because this challenge is, uh, basically the work of testosterone, and also for male and females. This testosterone makes us want to conquer, to be with someone that not from our league, and it feels like we have an accomplishment. That’s why it’s really important to not to be too easy to get.

And also, I may also add, that it implies also inside the relationship, sometimes we think, okay, so we are in a relationship, and we are married, so we don’t need to play games anymore. But it’s not necessarily true. Even inside the marriage, we need to sometimes play these games.

I mean, not to be too needy. Um, why we don’t hang out too much together. You are not with me. You are more with your friends. Automatically, when someone says such phrases or sentences, the other one feels, oh, I need my space. Uh, I don’t want to be, um, controlled.

So this game of testosterone applies before the relationship and also inside the relationship.

Of course, there are, uh, I’m sure, exceptions to pretty much everything you’ve said. And one of those exceptions I’d like you to talk about is I think everybody probably knows someone who should not get married or should never have gotten married, because they just don’t seem the settle down, monogamous type.

Are there people like that, that are just wired that way, that monogamy just doesn’t work for them?

As a matter of fact, 20% of the population have a special variant of the gene for a dopamine receptor in the brain that they called it the, uh, infidelity gene. You need more excitements and more conquerors, and, uh, this 20% of population needs more excitement than the others. Uh, but we all have this tension between monogamy m and, um, polyamory, if you want, or polygamy that you want the attachment and security and relaxation and familiarity of a one person.

But there is a price that we pay, and the price is the dopamine, because dopamine makes us seek for novelty, for new things. Uh, we have this wiring of the brain that makes us become tolerant to the same stimuli, the same kiss, the same touch with the same person.

So after a while, like I said, 6 hours to two years, uh, we find it boring sometimes and it’s wiring of our brain, it has nothing to do with the other person. So in this game, this is what I’m trying to educate and understand, that it’s written in our biology.

We will have to deal with this tension between the need of security, attachment and familiarity, and also the need for dopamine and adrenaline and serotonin, which are coming for us from novelty seeking. And that’s why you sometimes we lose desire for the same person.

But it seems.

Would you say that women are more monogamous or would you say that men are less monogamous than the other?

Um, no, no, I wouldn’t say that. Because also we see, when we look at the, ah, research about cheating, we see it’s 50 50, you know, between, uh, women and men. So there is no difference.

You said a few minutes ago that there’s this variant of a gene that makes people, 20% of people, less monogamous or more likely to cheat. Can you like actually test for that?

Yes, even there is, uh, there are labs in the US that you can send your DNA and they will tell you if you have this variant of the gene. There is also the monogamy gene. It makes the male more attached to the females and also the female more attached to the males.

So they stay together for forever and they don’t cheat on each other, and usually they don’t, and uh, they get depressed where they are not together. So there is also the monogamy gene, and you can check for this also.

So with all you know about this is, do you have a prescription, like, what makes a good monogamous relationship or what gets in the way of it?

Yes, I have a prescription. How to preserve love if we understand these biology. First, what the data says about the highest predictor for successful relationship, it has nothing to do with the other person, it has all about. It has all to do with us. The satisfaction from life of oneself.

Yes. So the predictor for my successful relationship is how satisfied I am with my life, with my career, with my friends, with the meaning of life for me. And the second predictor is the levels of stress. So the first thing we need to do is relieve stress and be more satisfied with our own life, and it’s in our own responsibility.

The other parameter is the commitment m to the bond and the appreciation of the partner, and also sexual satisfaction. So also my prescription is to really work on the sexual satisfaction, knowing that the biology is against us. But we can outsmart biology by keeping the engines of eroticism, by talking about it, uh, by don’t pleasing each other too much.

Everyone has its own space and to long to each other to be together, but also apart sometimes, um, and elevate the oxytocin level, you know, smile and touch and be with each other and talk with each other and do things together, but do things also apart.

Well, what’s interesting about your prescription is that, uh, we hear so often when couples are having trouble, you need to work on your relationship. And I never really understood what that meant, but that’s not what you’re saying. You need to work on you, maybe, and maybe help your partner work on them.

But it isn’t so much about fixing the relationship according to what you just said.

Yeah. Yes, this is what I think, because I see it also all as a, you know, balance of hormones. And if you are balanced, uh, uh, with your hormones, you know, more serotonin. I love serotonin. You know, dopamine is the novelty seeking to seek for what I don’t have.

Serotonin is being happy with what I have. And I wish everybody could, uh, elevate the serotonin, which makes us look at what we have and be, uh, content and be satisfied to have gratitude, uh, towards ourselves.

Well, it’s really unique to hear a discussion about love and relationships and commitment and all that through your lens of biology, as opposed to the more psychological, um, discussions that we hear. And I think it brings great insight into the whole issue of what’s going on in relationships and what goes wrong.

And what goes right. I have been speaking to Doctor Lyat Yakir. She is a biologist who specializes in genetics and science communications. And she’s author of a book called a brief history of what attracts us, how we fall in love and why biology screws it all up. There’s a link to her book at Amazon in the show notes.

Thank you for spending the time today, Liat.

Thank you. Thank you very much, Mike. It was a pleasure.

We hope you’ll listen. And also remember, we have a huge back catalog of shows that you may have missed. I’m, uh, Mike Kerr brothers. Thanks for listening today to something you should know.

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