Fisher (2000) hypothesized that sex drive, attraction and attachment are the three primary emotions correspond to mating, reproduction and parenting behaviors; those are three discrete constellations of brain circuits, and triggered (and therefore measured and experimented) by a vast of hormones. However, the paper was published 17 years ago, contains a number of hypotheses and self-citations, and its methods mostly come from demography, not cognitive science or evolutionary.

Do you know any update on this hypothesis?

Source: Helen Fisher (2000), Lust, Attraction, Attachment: Biology and Evolution of the Three Primary Emotion Systems for Mating, Reproduction, and Parenting, Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25:1, 96-104

  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting question and I will try and look into this. The abstract of the article does mention that "a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is in progress to investigate the neural architecture of this primary emotion system" and being this was 17 years ago, there may be a published report on this fMRI study. Do any neuroscientists in this group know of this study? @AliceD maybe? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


This hypothesis relies on a number of ideas that are difficult to defend in light of the past decade of emotion research.

Most notably, there is almost no evidence of modular "emotion systems" in the brain that coordinate some sort of stereotyped emotional response (1 2 3 4).

Moreover, rigidity in responding is often related to reduced evolutionary fitness. High fitness species have behavioral and genetic flexibility (see the evo-bio literature on degeneracy and variability).

Moreover, there's strong evidence that the brain is predictive, not reactive (for a starting point on this idea, see 5), which rejects the traditional stimulus-response paradigm (e.g., "triggering" a circuit).

The theory also relies on an outdated understanding of neurotransmitter functions (e.g., 6 7).

Overall, this theory needs to be heavily revised in order to account for contemporary findings.

  • $\begingroup$ does that theory has any grain of truth? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 8:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Ooker Well, sort of, but not in any way worth considering too deeply. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 4:11

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