Yet, this apparently obvious assertion is challenged by the intrusion of science into matters of love, including the application of scientific analysis to modern forms of courtship. An increasing number of dating services boast about their use of biological research and genetic testing to better match prospective partners. Yet, while research continues to disentangle the complex factors that make humans fall in love, the application of this research remains dubious.
Long working hours, increasing mobility and the dissolution of traditional modes of socialization mean that people use chat rooms and professional dating services to find partners. Despite the current economic downturn, the online dating industry continues to flourish. Large metropolitan cities boast the highest number of active online dating accounts, with New York totalling a greater number of subscriptions on Match.
Most dating services match subscribers based on metrics that include education and professional background, personal interests, hobbies, values, relationship skills and life goals. These websites use a range of personality tests and psychological assessments to build lists of traits that individuals seek in an ideal partner. Yet, in this modern era of personalized genomes and DNA-based crime fighting, the new generation of online dating services has added one more parameter: Such studies aim to unravel both the genetic factors and the neural circuits that underlie love.
So far, scientists have revealed that the relevant regions of the brain are mainly those involved in motivational and reward systems and are orchestrated by hormones and neurotransmitters Aaron et al, She created a test for the website—used by about eight million people to date—in which questions are designed to establish a range of basic information about brain and body chemistry associated with specific aspects of temperament and personality.
For instance, measuring the ratio between the length of the index finger and the ring finger of the right hand, which is a marker for testosterone levels in the prenatal brain, is assumed to provide information about assertive, verbal, musical or analytical capabilities Wilson, Other questions determine a propensity to be curious or a tendency to seek novel experiences, supposedly based on dopamine levels in the brain.
Science-based dating services such as ScientificMatch. This approach draws on a study performed by Claus Wedekind and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland, who asked female volunteers to smell T-shirts that had been worn by men for three consecutive days and to rank them by attractiveness Wedekind et al, What accounted for the immune system differences at the genetic level were sequences in the genes encod-ing the human leukocyte antigen HLA. HLA genes control the activation of the immune response and are crucial for acquiring immunity; the greater the variety in the HLA genes, the greater the variety and success of the immune response.
From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that individuals with opposite varieties would attract each other as this would lead to offspring with a broader range of HLA genes.
Some of the claimed advantages of having genetically compatible partners are a more satisfying sex life, a higher fertility rate and healthier children. Members of the gay community have complained about their exclusion from these benefits. However, research is already underway to find specific pheromone-induced brain responses in both homosexual men and women Berglund et al, ; Savic et al, Although sequencing DNA to find a soul mate might sound like a ludicrous application of genetics, investigating the genetic compatibility of couples is already routine practice for groups or populations that have a high risk of specific severe genetic diseases.
The couples have to be informed of the test results before their marriage, but the choice is theirs of whether or not to marry. Genetic screening is also common among Ashkenazi Jews, who have a higher risk of suffering from one of several monogenetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Tay—Sachs or Bloom syndrome. These screening programmes have reduced considerably the number of babies affected by these diseases Kronn et al, There is a kind of irony in online dating in that courtship and romantic love are profoundly physical experiences that manifest with symptoms including sweaty palms, reddened cheeks or tied tongues; but internet dating, owing to its virtual nature, is utterly disembodying.
For Eva Illouz, professor of sociology and anthropology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, this rearticulates the relationship between corporeality and emotions: Knowledge of another person therefore precedes the bodily attraction. Websites such as ScientificMatch.
By contrast, genetic information on biological compatibility is not standardized and genuinely represents an individual's uniqueness. The use of biological information seems to reassure customers that they will find a better match.
Nevertheless, the real question remains as to whether the use of genetics is proving more effective than traditional matching methods. Indeed, there is a good deal of skepticism concerning the reliability of DNA-based dating services. For example, there is some debate about the extent to which HLA diversity is actually reflected in a person's scent, and therefore whether such differences can genuinely be picked up by the body's olfactory bulbs.
These companies are taking advantage of a public who have been educated by the media. Deciphering the genetics and neurochemistry of love might, therefore, cast a disenchanting shadow over some cultural practices. In this regard, a Shakespearean sonnet, or other works of classical romance might still prove more instructive and interesting for anyone desirous to understand the rules and excitement of courtship and love than would taking a genetic test.
You can know every single part of an engine in a Bentley or a Ferrari, and still feel the rush and joy of driving it. A little bit of knowledge about the relevant brain mechanisms just refines this ancient process. More serious concerns have been raised about the possible misapplication of the growing knowledge of emotional chemistry to manipulate the brain and enhance or diminish emotions for others—in essence, the creation of love potions.
The idea is not too far-fetched: We already try that by buying our prospective partners flowers, candy, romantic settings, hugging and kissing, all of which stimulate the chemistry of love, such as dopamine or oxytocin. In the case of finding the perfect mate, modern changes to contemporary lifestyles and social connectedness, as well as the difficulty of actually finding the right partner, mean that this simplistic view of the role of genes is driving would-be lovers to services that claim to offer science-based fixes.
But love is ambiguous, unpredictable and hardly respectful of laws In addition to the potentially disenchanting effect of using science to prescribe romance, emotional compatibility and loving relationships, the increasing tendency to apply genetics to multiple areas of social interaction and behaviour raises more general issues about the growing encroachment of genetics and neuroscience into personal lives.
Haunted by the inherent uncertainties of life, people are drawn to any service or person that promises to predict the future—from tarot cards to palm readers, and even to genetic tests. Perhaps it was therefore only a matter of time before biology became entangled in attempting to predict the budding of love and the outcome of relationships. But love is ambiguous, unpredictable and hardly respectful of laws.
As the Roman poet Horace said to one of his lovers: Arch Sex Behav Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Polity Illouz E Cold Intimacies. The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Arch Intern Med J Forensic Sci Proc Biol Sci Pers Individ Dif 4: