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Last Updated: 28.06.23

The Science of Love, Desire and Attachment

Huberman explores the psychology and biology of desire, love, and attachment, including childhood attachment types, adult attachment styles, mate selection, and relationship dynamics. The neurobiology of desire and love, as well as the role of empathy and self-​​awareness in relationships, are discussed. Tools and supplements for enhancing libido and strengthening relationships are also outlined.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

Studies show that men find women’s odors most attractive during the pre-​​ovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle.

Women in the pre-​​ovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle rate men’s odors as more attractive, especially if the men are more physically symmetrical.

Oral contraception eliminates the peak in perceived attractiveness during the pre-​​ovulatory phase for both men and women.

Secure Attachment

  • Child engages with stranger while parent is present
  • Upset when parent leaves, happy when parent returns
  • Trusts that caregiver will be responsive to their needs

Anxious Avoidant/​​Insecure Attachment

  • Child avoids or ignores caregiver
  • Shows little emotion when parent leaves or returns

Anxious Ambivalent Resistant Insecure Attachment

  • Child shows distress even before separation from caregiver
  • Clingy and difficult to comfort when caregiver returns

Disorganized/​​Disoriented Attachment

  • Child appears tense and exhibits odd physical postures
  • Unsure how to react to separation from caregiver

Attachment styles in children can predict attachment styles in romantic relationships later in life

  • Attachment styles can change across the lifespan through psychological and biological adjustments

Neuroimaging, hormone measures, and neurochemical measures support the connection between early attachment styles and adult romantic attachments.

Secure attachment style leads to more stable and predictable long-​​term relationships.

Studies during WWII bombing showed children’s stress levels were affected by their mothers’ stress levels

  • If mothers were stressed, children’s stress persisted long after the event
  • If mothers turned the situation into a game, children experienced less stress and trauma

Autonomic nervous systems of children tend to mimic those of their primary caregivers.

Healthy interdependence in relationships involves adjusting our autonomic nervous system in the presence of another and being able to self-​​regulate in their absence.

Arc of mating:

  • Sympathetic arousal for pursuit
  • Parasympathetic arousal for sexual arousal
  • Sympathetic response for orgasm and ejaculation
  • Return to parasympathetic activation for bonding and relaxation

Positive delusion is predictive of long-​​term attachment

  • Belief that only a specific person can make one feel a certain way

Gottman’s Four Horsemen of relationship apocalypse

  • Criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt
  • Contempt is the most powerful predictor of breaking up

Dr. Fisher’s work conducted studies involving data from millions of individuals on dating sites; work on categorizing people into four groups based on neurochemical and hormone systems

  • Dopamine, Serotonin, Testosterone, Estrogen
  • These categories are not strict, but provide a general understanding of how people pair up

Dopamine Category

  • High sensation seeking, novelty seeking, spontaneous, adventurous
  • Tend to pair up with others in the same category

Serotonin Category

  • Grounded, soothing activities, rule-​​following, homebodies, stability
  • Tend to pair up with others in the same category

Testosterone Category

  • Directive, know what they want, comfortable telling others what they want, challenging
  • Tend to pair up with those in the Estrogen category

Estrogen Category

  • Nurturing, prefer when someone else makes major decisions, like to be heard
  • Tend to pair up with those in the Testosterone category

People may select partners with similar autonomic nervous systems before they even meet

  • Dopamine and Serotonin categories tend to seek out people with similar autonomic tone

Autonomic coordination in romantic attachments

  • Autonomic nervous systems of individuals tend to synchronize during romantic interactions

Neural synchronization between individuals

  • Studies show that people tend to select partners with different or opposite resting brain states

Opposites attract is not always the best rule to follow

  • People may pair up with similar or different partners depending on individual preferences

A New York Times article in 2015 listed 36 questions designed to help people fall in love

  • People who go through this exercise report feeling closer and more attached to the other person
  • Autonomic nervous system synchronization may play a role in this phenomenon

No solid evidence linking specific attachment styles or neurotransmitter profiles to infidelity.

Study: Manipulation of Self-​​Expansion Alters Responses to Attractive Alternative Partners

  • People who need self-​​expansion (one’s perception of self as seen through the relationship with another person) are more prone to seeing others as attractive
  • Better self-​​regulation and self-​​worth independent of others can lead to more stable relationships
  • Unstable bonds can form when one person relies too heavily on self-​​expansion from their partner

Chemistry: subconscious processes that drive attraction

  • Smell, taste, etc. can be exciting or repulsive to different people
  • Chemistry not absolutely required for stable attachments, but plays a role in romantic relationships

Driving dopamine too high can lead to states of arousal where one seeks sexual activity but cannot engage the parasympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system to become physically aroused

  • This can lead to a chronic pursuit of sexual activity but an inability to perform sexually

Three supplements with peer-​​reviewed research supporting their effectiveness on libido: Maca, Tongkat Ali (Longjack), and Tribulus.


Supplements for Libido



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • The Science of Love, Desire and Attachment 

    Huberman Lab #59

    Huberman delves into desire, love, and attachment, covering childhood attachment, mate selection, neurobiology, and relationship tools for strong connections and healthy bonds.

Full Notes

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