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Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction

Abstract

This paper proposes that mammals exhibit three primary emotion categories for mating and reproduction: (1) the sex drive, or lust, characterized by the craving for sexual gratification; (2) attraction, characterized by increased energy and focused attention on one or more potential mates, accompanied in humans by feelings of exhilaration, “intrusive thinking” about a mate, and the craving for emotional union with this mate or potential mate; and (3) attachment, characterized by the maintenance of close social contact in mammals, accompanied in humans by feelings of calm, comfort, and emotional union with a mate. Each emotion category is associated with a discrete constellation of neural correlates, and each evolved to direct a specific aspect of reproduction. The sex drive is associated primarily with the estrogens and androgens; it evolved to motivate individuals to seek sexual union. The attraction system is associated primarily with the catecholamines; it evolved to facilitate mate choice, enabling individuals to focus their mating effort on preferred partners. The attachment system is associated primarily with the peptides, vasopressin, and oxytocin; it evolved to motivate individuals to engage in positive social behaviors and assume species-specific parental duties.

During the evolution of the genus Homo, these emotion systems became increasingly independent of one another, a phenomenon that contributes to human mating flexibility and the wide range of contemporary human mating and reproductive strategies.

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Correspondence to Helen E. Fisher.

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Helen Fisher, Ph.D./Physical Anthropology, is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University. She is author of Anatomy of Love (W. W. Norton 1992/ Faucett 1994), The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior (William Morrow 1982/ Quill 1983), and several articles on the evolution of serial monogamy among Homo. Her research interests include the evolution of the emotions, human reproductive strategies, and gender differences in behavior and the brain.

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Fisher, H.E. Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Hum Nat 9, 23–52 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-998-1010-5

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Key words

  • Catecholamines
  • Emotions
  • Evolution
  • Human reproductive strategies
  • Mate choice
  • Romantic love