Were you duped by fake studies about love science?
My daughter went to college two years ago. She was surprised by the widespread belief among her colleagues that students should sleep with as many partners as possible to find love. When she disagreed, they told her that this was based on real science. When I assured that there is no scientific evidence for this, she asked them for the scientific evidence behind this belief. Her colleagues gave a book to prove the scientific basis for this belief that sex is the first step in finding love. She was given a book written by Dr. Helen Fisher, a sex researcher and anthropologist. Dr. Fisher clearly claims in her book “Anatomy of Love” page 379 that “No sex, no orgasm; no flood of these cuddle chemical (oxytocin and vasopressin). …with orgasm a woman distinguishes a patient, empathetic Mr. Right from self-centered Mr. Wrong. These pills (antidepressants) may jeopardize a woman’s ability to select a suitable mate. Last, with orgasm a man deposits seminal fluid…that contains dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin…that can potentially push a woman over the threshold into falling in love”.
I was so shocked, I had to buy the book to take a closer look at the so called “scientific evidence”. I was so shocked with what I read that I decided to write a book (True Love: How to use science to understand love) to explain the real science about love to my daughter and all the new generation.
I will use my training as a Neurologist to evaluate the studies used in the book and critique whether these studies were scientific or whether these studies were unrelated to science at all.
The scientific community evaluates studies by looking at “who” is doing the study, to decide if they are qualified to do these studies or not.
Scientific community looks at the “design” of the study, to confirm that it follows the scientific method. The gold standard in medical scientific research is called “The double blind randomized placebo controlled study”. Please google: How to evaluate a scientific study and the double blind randomized placebo controlled study to find out for yourself. Scientific studies should have a control group, a placebo group. Scientific studies should be double blinded? Scientific studies should be properly randomized. Scientific studies should have an adequate sample size to make a statistical conclusion.
The scientific community evaluates the “technology” used to determine if it was the appropriate method to find the answer for the question that the study tries to investigate. For example, checking the temperature of a person is not the correct technology to answer the question: does honey raise the blood sugar or not?
The scientific community evaluates the “execution” of the study. Was the study executed to the highest scientific standards?
The scientific community ensures that the “conclusions” made matches the findings in the study.
The scientific community evaluates whether the results are “reproducible” by other researchers who are unrelated to the first group.
The scientific community evaluates if there are any potential “conflict of interest”. Some call this “follow the money”. Would the researcher have a financial gain from the experiment?
The scientific community, using all the above to conclude whether the study is “scientific” and reflects a potential reality or whether the studies should it be ignored as a “non-scientific” study.
Now let us use the scientific method to critique these studies.
WHO: As I researched Dr. Helen Fisher, I found that she has a Ph.D., which stand for a Philosophy Doctor, not a science doctor. I checked the topic of her Ph.D. thesis. The topic of the doctorate degree was about “Mating strategies…”. I believe that this was about sex, not science, but I could change my mind if I am provided with more specifics. She is an Anthropologist at Kinsey Institute, based on her website. Kinsey Institute used to be called “The sex Institute”, obviously, a sex research Institution. She states that she is a “Biological Anthropologist” and that this somehow makes her a brain expert! I am biased against this based on my reading of her book.
Her partner is Dr. Lucy Brown. Again, Dr. Brown has a Ph.D., Philosophy Doctorate, in Psychology, not in science. She spent her life at university neurology research department studying the dopamine system in mice. She participated in couple of studies about epilepsy.
DESIGN: I will analyze only one study as the rest are duplication of the same study design. I will use Dr. Fisher & Dr. Brown’s most famous study, as it is the study reported on her website “theanatomyoflove.com”. Dr. Fisher and Dr. Brown took 17 people to a functional MRI scanner. Dr. Fisher interviewed the lovers about their love immediately before the fMRI was done. Lovers next lied down in the functional MRI looking at pictures of their loved one as well as pictures of other people and buildings. The machine supposedly detected “activation” in part of the brain deep inside the brain, the ventral tegmental area or VTA which is claimed as evidence for increased dopamine activity in VTA. Based on this study, Dr. Fisher claims that she found the love center in the brain.
Now let’s critique the design of the experiment.
Placebo control: We all know that a placebo is an inactive substance that has no effect on our body. In medical studies, we compare a group taking what I will call “real thing” which could be a medication, an operation or whatever we are studying then we compare the “real thing” group to an identical placebo group. Was there a placebo group in Dr. Fisher’s study? No there was only the group of people in love with no placebo group. There was no studying of a group of people not in love. We cannot say if we could have found exactly the same changes in people who are not in love or not.
Double blinding: If we know that we are taking a placebo, we will not feel that the “placebo” would help us. We lost the placebo effect. Both test groups should not know if they are taking the placebo or the real think. If the examiner is convinced that the “real thing” will help, s/he will unconsciously see that it helps. That is why the examiner should be blinded to who is taking the real thing and who is taking a placebo. This is called double blinding (researcher is blinded & subjects are blinded). Was any of the lover’s blinded to what was being tested? I admit that in this particular situation, subject blinding could be difficult. Was Dr. Fisher blinded to who was in love and who is not. She even biased herself more by a pre-test interview. This does not follow the golden rules of a medical study of double blinding. This is called an open label study.
Randomization: The sequence of those taking placebo or the “real thing” must be at random so nobody can predict who is taking the real thing and who is not. This MUST be done by a third part that is not part of the experiment and has no benefit from its outcome. As there is one group only, randomization does not exist. Dr. Fisher did randomize the sequence of images shown to the lovers. But, do we accept scientific studies by compare epilepsy patients during a seizure to when they do not have a seizure or those studies comparing migraine patients when they have a migraine attack to when they have no headaches? We typically compare those with epilepsy to those without epilepsy and those with migraines to those without migraines.
Sample Size: Were the number of volunteers sufficient to make a statistical conclusion? Could I just ask 4 people about whom they will vote for in the next election and use their answers as a reliable predictor of the election outcome? The number of subjects in both groups should be sufficient to produce a small probability that the findings are a product or coincidence. Seventeen subjects are too few to make any statistical conclusions.
EXECUTION: In a genuine medical study, the MRI images are sent to a qualified Neuro-radiologist (a specialist in reading brain images) who is not affiliated with the study and who does not know who took the placebo and who took the real thing (called blinded reader). Images in all the studies were read by Dr. Lucy Brown, a philosophy doctor, who is a part of the research team. It is particularly interesting to me that she somehow can interpret human brain MRI’s while all Neurologists and Neurosurgeons in the entire Western hemisphere are not qualified to read MRIs. They can look at it but no hospital will allow them to place an official interpretation of the brain imaging studies on a patient chart. The total payments by insurance companies to all the neurologists and neurosurgeons for reading MRI images in the western hemisphere, still totals zero. Is she really qualified to read these functional MRI tests? In my opinion, she is not qualified.
TECHNOLOGY: Is functional MRI a real scientific method for testing brain functions? I have written two blogs at https://truelovebook.net to explain why fMRI is a questionable science.
In brief, in July 2016, the National academy of science published a large study that found 73% false positive results in fMRI. The authors recommended the recall of all studies they had access to, that used fMRI as a testing method. fMRI and false positives study
A brain fMRI of fish that was shown happy and angry faces showed significant brain changes suggestive that a Fish’s brain reacts to these images. However, that fish was dead? Bennett-Dead-Salmon-2009.pdf
MIT did a study on the statistical methods used in fMRI studies read article and found that 25-40% of the studies used wrong statistical methods.
I can also add the fact that 99.95% of all Neurologists and Neurosurgeons worldwide practice and retire without ordering one single fMRI test. We have in USA thousands of MRI centers, none offer fMRI testing.
Reproducibility: Did another researcher in an unrelated laboratory find the same findings? To the best of my knowledge, nobody else ever reproduced these results. Nobody else found activity in the VTA in lovers!
Conflict of interest: Did Dr. Fisher get financial benefits from publicizing these studies? I really cannot the answer this question. I lack information here.
CONCLUSION: These studies in my opinion, as a Neurologist, were not done by qualified examiners, were not placebo controlled, were not double blinded, were not properly randomized, had a small sample size of no statistical significance, used a questionable technology, were poorly executed, were never reproduced.
In my opinion, we should not use these studies to tell our young generation that scientific studies prove that sex is the real method for selecting a suitable mate. We are causing them harm by turning a blind eye to these questionable studies.
It is time to seek the truth from qualified authorities. It is time you investigate this further on your own to make your own conclusions whether sex is the scientific method for finding a suitable mate or not.
Fred Nour, M.D.
April 15, 2017
Conflict of interest declaration:
As I am selling a book on the topic of love, I could be biased. You should use your best judgement to decide whom you should believe whether sex is the way to find love or if love is a separate brain system. Please be smart and do your research.