Fisher, Helen E. 1945–
Fisher, Helen E. 1945–
(Helen Elizabeth Fisher)
PERSONAL: Born May 31, 1945, in New York, NY; daughter of Roswell E. (a publishing executive) and Helen (an artist; maiden name, Greeff) Fisher. Education: New York University, B.A., 1968; University of Colorado, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975. Religion: Congregational.
CAREER: American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, conductor of field research on a Navajo Indian reservation, 1968; John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, New York, NY, adjunct lecturer in anthropology, 1974; State University of New York—Purchase College, assistant professor of physical anthropology, 1974–75; Reader's Digest General Books, New York, NY, research editor and editor, 1975–78; freelance writer, 1978–82; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, research associate in anthropology, 1984–94; visiting scholar, Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1994–95; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, visiting research professor and member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology. Associate member of Columbia University Seminar on Ecological Systems and Cultural Evolu-tion. Lecturer at numerous venues worldwide, including the C.G. Jung Institute, the Brookings Institute, the University of Michigan, Planned Parenthood of New York City, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institute. Chemistry.com (online matchmaking service), cofounder and Chief Scientific Advisor. Anthropological consultant for businesses and media including Today Show, Nightline, Larry King Live, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Time-Life Books, and Procter and Gamble. Host of television series Anatomy of Love, Turner Broadcasting Systems, 1995; host of radio series What Is Love?, BBC World Service, 2004.
MEMBER: American Anthropological Association (fellow), American Association of Physical Anthropologists (fellow), American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Museum of Natural History, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Society of Neuroscience, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, New York Academy of Sciences (co-chair of anthropology section, 1982–84), New York State Archaeological Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Distinguished Service Award, American Anthropological Association, for work communicating anthropology to the lay public.
(Research editor and contributor) James A. Maxwell, editor, America's Fascinating Indian Heritage, Reader's Digest Press (New York, NY), 1978.
The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce, Norton (New York, NY), 1992.
The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to The Story of the Great American West, edited by Edward S. Barnard, Reader's Digest Press (New York, NY), 1977. Contributor to science and anthropology journals, including the Journal of Comparative Neurology, Journal of NIH Research, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Archives of Sexual Behavior, and Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Mate Choice: Why You Fall in Love with One Person Rather than Another.
SIDELIGHTS: Helen E. Fisher is an anthropologist who specializes in the analysis of love, sex, and gender differences. In her book The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World, she puts forth the argument that the natural characteristics of women will make them the dominant sex in the decades to come. Her title comes from the fact that all human embryos start out as female. For much of human history, Fisher states, females were held to be roughly equal to men in a social sense. During the primitive days of the hunter-gatherer societies, women worked to provide most of the food, and their contributions to the good of the whole tribe were freely acknowledged. It was the advent of a largely agricultural society that led to the isolation and suppression of women, according to Fisher, and now that mankind is moving from an agricultural model to an information-based society, women will again come to the fore. She points to naturally selected survival traits, such as the ability to juggle many tasks at once, sensitivity to feelings, effective communication, and the tendency to look for win-win solutions, as the ingredients that will fill the needs of the emerging new culture.
Not all reviewers were convinced by Fisher's thesis in The First Sex. Population and Development Review critic Dennis Hodgson found that the author's tendency "to see biological advantage" in some female traits "borders on the silly." As an example, Hodgson mentioned Fisher's observation that women can see better in the dark than men, and that this makes them better suited to giving multimedia demonstrations in darkened boardrooms and lecture halls. But Booklist contributor Donna Seaman stated that Fisher "explains exactly" how women's unique gender traits will allow them to excel, "building her argument with an ebullient momentum…. Fisher's theories and predictions seem commonsensical, and her optimism … feels right." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that Fisher's ideas were "overly optimistic," but added that The First Sex "offers a provocative overview of the latest bio-anthropological studies on gender and communication, menopause and romantic love."
In the 2004 book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Fisher explores the biological mechanisms that create amorous feelings of love, identifying hormones and the two regions of the brain responsible for these sensations. She then goes on to explain that natural cycles in human biology cause these feelings to wane at certain times. For example, her research unveiled that the natural birth interval for women—the average time between giving birth to children—has historically been about four years; this parallels peaks in divorce rates, which statistics show reach a height four years after a marriage. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that although her explanations of love are largely scientific, "Fisher never loses her sense of the emotion's power or poetry." Booklist contributor Carol Haggas commented that the author "entertainingly balanc[es] poetic plaudits with scientific sanctions."
Fisher once told CA: "I was schooled in the tradition of John Locke—that is, of cultural determinism. It was taught, and I believed, that the human infant was an empty slate, a tabula rasa, upon which culture inscribed personality. Moreover, I learned that man was unique. Since his behavior was the product of culture, he differed wholly from all other creatures. Thus nothing about human behavior could be discovered from studying our close relatives, the other primates.
"Since then Dr. Jane Goodall has penetrated the world of the wild chimpanzees of Tanzania to discover that these creatures use tools and weapons, hunt meat and share it, form a circle around a dead companion to mourn his passing, patrol the borders of their territory for enemy chimpanzees, and occasionally storm their neighbors' turf to murder them and usurp their lands. Other primatologists have examined incest, intelligence, dominance, linguistic performance, and other faculties and abilities of our relatives. And many primatologists have begun to compare the behavior patterns of apes and monkeys with those of modern men and women.
"Sociobiologists have also been studying human behavior, comparing it with that of more distant species, such as ants and bees, birds and fish. They hypothesize that behavior has a biological component, that human beings share many predispositions with other living creatures, and that these proclivities are the product of selection and evolution. This is not a new idea. Over one hundred years ago, Charles Darwin noticed that many human emotions, such as disgust, sympathy, defiance, envy, vanity, humility, sorrow, and joy, were expressed by individuals around the world in exactly the same fashion. He concluded that these had evolved as genetic endowments in the same way that physical characteristics did—by natural selection.
"Since my school days my thinking has been affected by Darwin, the sociobiologists, and the primatologists. I have written a doctoral dissertation and a book on the evolution of human sexual behavior, and I have come full circle to maintain that many of our sexual emotions and behavior patterns are not learned but the product of predispositions inherited by natural selection during evolution. Most predominant of these is the human tendency to bond. For example, teenagers seem to experiment naturally at bonding when they 'go steady.' Couples who live together bond. People who marry bond, and most people who divorce proceed to marry and bond again. This pattern of bonding is seen around the world. I think it evolved as a survival technique and reproductive strategy over four million years ago—a direct result of bipedalism and savanna living. (This is the thrust of my book, The Sex Contract.) Along with this behavioral predisposition to bond, I hypothesize that several sexual emotions evolved to keep this bond intact. Among them are infatuation, romantic love, sexual fidelity, sexual guilt, and sexual jealousy—emotions we all have and struggle with today.
"Like bonding, human beings share other emotions, abilities, and characteristics acquired from a time long gone. My goal is to bring anthropology to the public so that individuals will have a better perspective on their past, present, and future actions. I hope to achieve this through books, articles, and public speaking."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World, p. 1647; February 15, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, p. 1005.
Business Week, July 19, 1999, "She's All That," review of The First Sex, p. F4; October 13, 2005, "C'mon, Baby, Light My Brain Cells: Researcher Helen Fisher Says We're Hardwired to Be Attracted to Certain People," article on Fisher's work with Chemistry.com.
Commonweal, February 26, 1993, Dennis O'Brien, review of Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce, p. 24.
Current Science, February 11, 2005, Kirsten Weir, "Crazy in Love: Beyonce and Anthropologist Helen Fisher Agree: Love Is an Obsession," p. 4.
Insight on the News, February 23, 1998, John Elvin, review of Anatomy of Love, p. 35.
International Labour Review, winter, 1999, review of The First Sex, p. 476.
Journal of Comparative Family Studies, autumn, 1995, review of Anatomy of Love, p. 467.
Library Journal, May 1, 1999, Mary Ann Hughes, review of The First Sex, p. 99.
Population and Development Review, December, 1999, Dennis Hodgson, review of The First Sex, p. 791.
Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of Anatomy of Love, p. 84; April 12, 1999, review of The First Sex, p. 68; December 15, 2003, review of Why We Love, p. 43.
U.S. News & World Report, August 8, 1988, Kathleen McAuliffe, "A Primitive Prescription for Equality," p. 57.
Helen E. Fisher Home Page, http://www.helenfisher.com/ (December 20, 2005).
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (January 27, 2004), Carlene Bauer, "This Is Your Brain on Love," interview with Fisher and review of Why We Love.