• Can brain scans and DNA tests really help you find the person you should marry? (SBS)
Can brain scans and DNA tests really help you find the person you should marry? Dateline looks into the role that science is playing in modern dating.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 21:30

Humans have tried to understand the concept of love for centuries.

“What is love?” is one of the most commonly searched questions on Google. Is there a scientific answer to love’s origin? Or is it a mystery?

Emily Soukas has been looking for love in New York City for more than three years, and is yet to find her match.

“It’s so challenging, like don’t even bother,” she tells Dateline reporter Aaron Lewis. “You might know what your type is, but...still go to actively pursue what’s not your type.”

She’s tried dating apps like Tinder, but finds them superficial.

“What am I trying to get as a reaction from someone else, from a total stranger who knows nothing about me, except for this picture and 500 characters? It just felt so unnatural to me.”

For Emily, love has been elusive so far – but perhaps she’s not approaching it the right way. Could a brain scan or DNA test actually be the best way of finding her perfect match?

Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher and neuroscientist Dr Lucy Brown have spent their careers trying to find the formula for love.

Their research claims to identify the brain chemistry that explains why one person falls in love with another, and to measure the romantic compatibility of two people.

“Mapping love is something that in prior generations was really taboo,” says Dr Fisher. “People thought love was part of the supernatural, that you shouldn't touch it. That it was magic.”

Do Dr Helen Fisher's personality test below:

Dr Fisher and Dr Brown’s research uses fMRI scanners to identify brain systems and how they determine personality traits, and therefore the types of people you are likely to fall in love with.

She describes the brain’s love triggers as similar to a sleeping cat, that can leap into action.

“It can be awakened the moment you see somebody, if you're ready to fall in love, they say the right thing at the right moment, boom! That brain circuitry is ignited.”

Just like addictions to narcotics or prescription drugs, the emotions related to love can release neurochemicals that cause people to form attachments.

“There are four brain systems that each one of them linked with a constellation of personality traits,” says Dr Fisher. “The dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and oestrogen systems.”

She says your natural chemical makeup and personality traits can be used to identify who you will be compatible with.

In some cases similarity attracts – for example, among people expressive of the serotonin system, who have ‘traditional’ values and respect for authority. In others cases, people with opposing personalities are more likely to find love.

Dr Fisher and Dr Brown’s approach to love has been taken a step further by some in the scientific community – with DNA tests now used to reveal ‘core personalities’, which inform compatibility.

Instant Chemistry, run by scientists Dr Ron Gonzalez and Dr Sara Seabrooke, tests the genetic predispositions of couples and claims to tell them whether they’re built to last.

The company tests genes that can affect serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which are all neurotransmitters – the chemical messages sent out by the brain.

“If you have two passionate people come together and they're married over thirteen years their marital satisfaction can start to decrease,” says Dr Searbrooke.

“That’s because in relationships there's good and there's bad but over time the bad can start to outweigh the good.”

Emily and her ex-boyfriend, Marcus, took Instant Chemistry's DNA test to find out their compatibility, and whether breaking up was the right decision. The test results showed a high physical attraction, but lower than average emotional compatibility, convincing Emily that approaching love in more systematic way may be the best way to find a match.

"[With] each relationship that you have, your definition of love changes," she says.

"If you can shift toward the science part of things and think about compatibility which does have a grounds and does have a way in which to measure it, I think you start to have tools in your tool box to find more successful relationships."

But is science really the most effective way of finding your match – or are there answers it can never tell us?

Click Here to watch the full episode: Love, Sex and Science


What companies doing romantic compatibility tests are not telling you
The accessibility of gene testing technology has meant companies have emerged claiming to make romantic matches based on people’s genes – but are their claims too good to be true?
How the brain responds to love
Love has traditionally been considered a mystery of the human condition, but modern science is bringing us new answers on the origins of love, and where in our brains we can observe it.
What is love? Here’s the science...
We all know what it's like to experience the feeling of love. But where do those feelings and impulses come from, and what triggers them?
Why learning about my DNA might be the answer to my dating woes
Finding love in New York City has been a tough game for Emily Soukas – but will the solution be found in her genes and brain chemistry?
The Science of Falling in Love
Hormones go a long way to explain love, says neuroscience.


  • Reporter: Aaron Lewis
  • Story Editor: David Potts


What IS love? Humans have been asking this question for centuries. Even today, it's one of the most common searches, every year on Google. But is it a question that science can answer? Can the mystery of love be unravelled in a lab?


Emily Soukas has been hunting for love for 3. 5 years in one of the most competitive dating markets in the world, New York City. We're here to kind of spot someone who might be your type.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Now and now and now. Definitely not.

REPORTER:  No, no, no, no. Is it hard being a single woman in New York?

EMILY SOUKAS:  It's SO challenging. I just - like don't even bother. Like why? Just why?

In the interests of finding her match, she's willing to put herself and her heart to the test.

REPORTER:  What is your type?

EMILY SOUKAS:  Oh... That is like the multimillion-dollar question. I'd be surprised if most people are, like, self-aware enough to actually know what their type is.

But self-awareness may be only one part of the equation. Modern advancements in science claim to be able to foresee who she's most likely to fall for, based on her genetic make-up. Could this be the missing link for Emily to find her perfect match?

EMILY SOUKAS:  You might know what your type is but also know what's not your type and you still actively go to pursue what's not your type.


EMILY SOUKAS:  In this weird, crazy, messed-up world of...

REPORTER:  You want what you can't have?

EMILY SOUKAS:  Yeah, exactly.

Technology is also supposedly making love matches easier.

REPORTER:  Let's to it! What did you put into your description?

EMILY SOUKAS:  I'm like the love child of Lesley Nope and Julia Child. I'm make you cookies and bust your balls.


Tinder is one of the most popular on-line dating sites in the world right now, according to 1.4 billion swipes daily. They indicate interest in potential love matches with a simple swipe. Right for "yes", left for "no".

EMILY SOUKAS:  Justin. Nice back. Like, leave something up to the imagination. Thomas, 38. I'm confused by you. Jonathan, I'm even more confused by you.

REPORTER:  Tinder is all about first impressions.

EMILY SOUKAS:  David! Oh look at you in front of all the hearts! Oh! You love life! Kind of feel like I would chew him up and spit him out.

But this starts to frustrate Emily. After all, everyone knows that true love is more than skin-deep.

EMILY SOUKAS:  What am I trying to get as a reaction from someone else, from a total stranger, who knows nothing about me except for this picture and 500 characters? It just felt so - just so unnatural to me and it's like you had to figure out what the game was in order to know how to play it.

Whether she likes it or not, it's a game her brain is designed to play.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Michael, I'm gonna say "no". No. How picky am I being though? That's the question.

REPORTER:  Swipe right on him for sure.


Scientists are offering a different set of rules to the game of love, asking us to change our perceptions by ignoring our hearts and listening to our brains.



DR LUCY BROWN:  Meet Aaron.


DR LUCY BROWN:  Aaron, this is Dr Helen Fisher.

Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher and neuroscientist Dr Lucy Brown have dedicated their careers to finding the magic ingredients for love.

DR HELEN FISHER: You know, this is a brain system that's like a sleeping cat. It can be awakened at any time. It can be awakened the moment you see somebody. If you are ready to fall in love, they say the right thing at the right moment, and boom, that brain circuitry can be ignited.

Their ground-breaking research was able to map the flow of romantic love through the brain.

DR HELEN FISHER: You know, we were the first in the world to do this brain scanning. Mapping love is something that, you know, in prior generations was really taboo. I mean, people thought love was part of the supernatural, that you shouldn't touch it - that was magic.

People in love had their brains scanned. The scientists wanted to see which parts lit up when they saw their partners. The results took them by surprise.

DR HELEN FISHER: I really came into this thinking that it was an emotion, that it was a whole series of emotions from high to low. It's got all kinds of cognitive thinking parts too but what we really ended up finding was that it's also and predominantly a drive.

In other words, love is not only an emotional reaction, it's involuntary, a drive, like hunger or thirst. It sits in the same part of the brain as our survival systems.

DR LUCY BROWN:  That drive to love is simple, it's almost like a reflex, it's almost like the reflex of swallowing, it's that level of the brain. Part of our survival system, like hunger or thirst.

What's more, love affects our brain in a similar way to drug addiction. They both release a whole set of chemicals to form a deep attachment.

DR LUCY BROWN:  One of the things that's most important about this work is the realisation that romantic love is a natural addiction. It's the system that nature gave us that laid down there for attaching to another person, and drugs of abuse jump onto that system. And that's why we have drug addictions, because we have this natural addiction system for other people. The drive to love is totally knowable and it's quite simple. The thing that's complex is who we love. That's the problem.

Why do we fall for one person rather than another? This is where things get complicated. Science says that who we are attracted to is influenced by the balance of chemicals in our brain.

DR HELEN FISHER:  Maybe when people say we have chemistry, there's basic body chemistry that will naturally draw you to one person rather than another.

All of us have our own unique formula and they believe that knowing your chemical make-up can help you find true love.

DR HELEN FISHER:  There are four brain systems, each linked with a constellation of personality traits, the dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and oestrogen systems. Those people who are very expressive of the dopamine system – curious, creative, spontaneous, and energetic - they go for people like themselves. People very expressive of the serotonin system, traditional, conventional, follow the rules, respect authority - they go for people like themselves. In those two cases similarity attracts.
In the other two cases, opposites attract, for example, Hillary and Bill Clinton. She's the high testosterone. She's get to the point kind of person there is a reason Americans are not fond of her. Her husband is very highest oestrogen. The whole world knows that Bill can't stop talking. He cries easily. He feels everybody's pain. He's the high oestrogen one and she's the high testosterone one.

So, knowing the basic aspects of your personality could help you narrow down the field.

DR LUCY BROWN:  As a neuroscientist doing these studies over the past 20 years the conclusion I'm coming to is, you know, your soul mate isn't out there. It's got much more to do with who you are. And what your brain is like.

Fisher and Brown use FMRI scans to help identify these different brain systems and how they determine personality traits.

GIRL:  It was great! It was really cool!

But other scientists are taking this theory a step further, and looking at our DNA as a way to reveal our core personalities. I'm going to get Emily to test this theory out.



REPORTER:  I have brought you a bag.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Excellent. Are we ready for this?

REPORTER:  I think so.

EMILY SOUKAS:  OK, come on in.

Emily has agreed to test her DNA against an ex-boyfriend to see whether they were genetically doomed from the start. She broke up with her first real love, Marcus, a few years ago, because of a long-distance relationship. They're still friends and in the interests of science, Marcus agreed to take this test.

EMILY SOUKAS:  OK, how much saliva to do I need?

REPORTER:  It's hard to reconcile this with anything remotely romantic.

EMILY SOUKAS:  I mean, what's sexier than spitting into a tube?!

The test is an intimate assessment of her genetic capacity to love. And what kind of person she's most compatible with.

EMILY SOUKAS:  If anything, that just gives me more knowledge, to understand what works for me and what doesn't and how I can make sure that my future relationships are as healthy and happy and successful as possible.

REPORTER:  How you want your test results to come back?

EMILY SOUKAS: Oh my goodness, that I'm horribly incompatible with my ex-boyfriend?

REPORTER:  Send it off to the lab!

I'm travelling to Toronto, where a lab is testing couples' DNA for how they're matched for love. As well as analysing Emily and her ex, I've agreed to put my own relationship to the test. The timing is a little nerve racking. My fiancee Taylor and I are getting married in a week. The only thing I'm nervous about it I hope that there's nothing crazy that shows up! What differences, if any, will the test show between a couple who has broken up and a couple who is about to commit to marriage?



Scientists Ron Gonzalez and Sara Seabrooke have taken the love science theory and make it into a business called Instant Chemistry. Hundreds of couples have paid to test their genetic pre-disposition to love.

SARA SEABROOKE:  So the results give you some insight about your genetic pre-dispositions and gives you insight into your partner and their genetic pre-dispositions. It gives you insight into how your relationship ticks, where there might be strong points and where there might be weak points you can work on.

These two believe that your DNA will let you know what strengths and weaknesses you may take into a relationship. First, they'll study emotional compatibility by looking at genes that can affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messages sent out by our brain.

SARA SEABROOKE:  So we look at genes that can affect serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, and so neurotransmitters are just chemicals that can act in your brain and they basically affect how our brain is functioning and how we respond to stimuli.

For example, serotonin genes have a long and a short variation. Short means you are passionate and long means you're practical. Two people with the short gene can experience a decline in marital satisfaction over time.

SARA SEABROOKE: If you have two passionate people come together and they are married, over 13 years, their marital satisfaction can start to decrease. That's because in relationships there's good and there's bad but over time, the bad can start to outweigh the good.

But this is all starting to sound too technical for matters of the heart, Ron and Sara have good reasons for using science.

RON GONZALEZ, SCIENTIST: An interesting result?

SARA SEABROOKE: I do have an interesting.

They are married and their own results prove that it's not always love at first sight.

SARA SEABROOKE:  I know when I first met Ron, I didn't particularly want to have much interaction with him, until I started to talk to him and then I realised, wow, we get along really, really well, actually. So I don't know if I would've - what I would've swiped if I had seen his picture on Tinder only without actually interacting with minimum.

In Tinder, you're swiping past people that you should be spending a lifetime with?

DR RON GONZALEZ: That’s right!  Potentially, yeah.

You're saying that you guys...

DR RON GONZALEZ:  I know a lot of couples who when they first met, they didn't want anything to do with one another. There's no exception here with myself and Sara.

With the DNA tests under way, it's a waiting game for myself and my fiancee and for Emily and her ex. But in the meantime, she's decided to ditch Tinder and test out a dating technique called 36 Questions to Fall in Love. To someone she's just met.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Lachy? Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you like to have as a dinner guest?

LACHLAN “LACHY” MAJOR: Off the top of my head I’m going to pick Noam Chomsky and Sir David Attenborough.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?


EMILY SOUKAS:  I had a really great first date! It was kind of wild! It really was. I still kind of feel like even if a few hours later that I'm... I go to replay it in my head and I'm like: what just happened?

Emily's questions were designed to help fast-track the process of getting to know someone.

EMILY SOUKAS:  It was strange to, like, to have such - I guess an intimate conversation with a total stranger and for that connection to happen so quickly.

It also had quite an effect on her date, Lachy.

LACHLAN “LACHY” MAJOR: I still feel a little bit of excitement, you know, because I don't know whether we were already suited to each other but it felt like it might've done its job.

That quickly led to a second date.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Look at those knife skills.

LACHLAN “LACHY” MAJOR: Sexy? This is like some sort of modern interpretation of the scene in Ghost where they're doing the clay-spinning?


REPORTER:  You two went out dancing yesterday?

LACHLAN “LACHY” MAJOR: Yes. We went out dancing the night away.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Dance machines!

REPORTER:  Was it fun?

EMILY SOUKAS:  It was so much fun!

LACHLAN “LACHY” MAJOR: Yeah, it was great. I think we ended up having a kiss, but we somehow managed to be up on some sort of raised platform, and for a brief moment, it was just the two of us and the crowd started cheering and clapping and cheering us.

They're showing all the signs of a growing connection. I wonder whether genetic-based dating might ruin in kind of magic?

REPORTER:  Do you think it's inevitable that people will use their genetic information in their dating lives and in your future?

EMILY SOUKAS:  I think we're probably going down that path, which probably isn't a bad thing.

At the Instant Chemistry lab I'm about to find out if science thinks my fiancee Taylor and I are scientifically meant for each other.

REPORTER:  All my compatibility results, this is sort of it isn’t it?


I'm given a score based on a combination of our emotional compatibility and potential physical attraction based on our pheromones or hormones that we can smell.

SARA SEABROOKE:  So your overall score was 73. You scored a very average to what long-term couples did. So it's a good sign for your relationship.

REPORTER:  That's comforting!

But my test also reveals something I'm not so comfortable about. According to Ron and Sara's test results my genetics pre-dispose me to having a highly analytical nature, the opposite of Taylor's empathetic disposition, which is strange because I've always thought of myself as a highly empathetic person.

DR RON GONZALEZ:  She has one line which means that she carries the listener version or the more empathetic version of that gene and then you have the A version, which is the more the thinker version.

REPORTER:  I'm a double?

DR RON GONZALEZ:  You're a double thinker, yes. It is rare. You can see here that it really only pops up one in every 10 people.

REPORTER:  Taylor and I seem to have fallen into a pretty normal bandwidth. What does normal mean?

DR RON GONZALEZ: Right.  It's extremely hard to get 100% on everyone. Most people aren't willing to wait hundreds of years before they find that person. Most people generally make that trade-off and have that 70 to 80% window that everything just clicks.

Now I need to share the results with my fiancee.

TAYLOR:  Hey hon.

REPORTER:  I'm calling because I got our test results back. Do you think that I have a normal amount of empathy?

TAYLOR:  I think you are incredibly empathetic.

REPORTER:  They're saying I have the least empathy genetically possible, that the relationship report is concerned that I might not understand your feelings, I think.

TAYLOR:  I would not agree.

REPORTER:  They said we have a very normal, healthy relationship. That we're in like the really - well within the really healthy normal, these are just some of their findings. The other one was apparently I have to be concerned with your risk-taking behaviour or your tendency to risk-taking behaviour. Hmmm.  I told them that we would still decide to get married but obviously it will be partly up to you.

TAYLOR:  I say we should go ahead with it.

REPORTER:   I will see you at the aisle next weekend. OK, love you, bye.

TAYLOR:  Love you, bye.

I feel much better. It surprised me that almost all couples' results cluster within a very small range, around 70%. That includes Emily and her ex-boyfriend.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Hello? How are you?

REPORTER:  I'm good.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Come on in.

REPORTER:  Finally here.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Finally here. I'm a little nervous.

REPORTER:  Don't be nervous.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Well, knowledge is power.

REPORTER:  It's fun, though. I think you will be surprised.

EMILY SOUKAS:  OK, here we go. Emily's love manual.


EMILY SOUKAS:  Let's see if I can follow it. OK, my compatibility results were scientifically determined to have a compatibility score of 71 percent.

REPORTER:  You know that's not far off Taylor's and mine.



EMILY SOUKAS:  This is a C score. Wow, that makes a lot of sense. We both carry the A version of the oxytocin receptor. As a couple, we may both sometimes feel that though your partner doesn't understand you or doesn't care you, about this is likely not the case and communicating your emotions in a more direct matter can help mitigate those feelings. Yeah, I definitely am like very challenged in communicating my emotions.

Emily and her ex-boyfriend scored highly on physical attraction, but lower than average in emotional compatibility.

REPORTER:  Is it like the science in there confirmed or unconfirmed the reasons for your break-up?

EMILY SOUKAS:  I think it confirmed. Yeah. Everything I read in there seemed quite spot-on, to describe myself and to describe Marcus. And that's crazy. I literally spat into a cup and then somehow they knew my entire relationship make-up in fabric.

Emily put her heart in the hands of science, it gave her answers about her past but she does remain sceptical. She's learned that there's much more to love than lust and fantasy.

EMILY SOUKAS:  Each relationship that you have, your definition of love changes, so you can't really rely on love, that that's not anything that has a ground to stand on, everyone defines that differently. But if you can shift toward the science part of things and think about compatibility, which does have a grounds and does have a way in which to measure it, I think you start to have tools in your toolbox to find more successful relationships.

Unfortunately, things didn't work out with Lachy. They had a few dates but they decided to remain friends. She's still looking for love, New York, like millions of others.

Aaron Lewis

Story Editor
David Potts
Simon Phegan

Production Manager
Kayla Richardson

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