"It was evidently a case of love at first sight, for she swam about the new-comer caressingly ... with overtures of affection."
Thus Charles Darwin described a female mallard duck who had become infatuated with a male pintail duck--a duck of a different species.
We all make mistakes. But Darwin believed that animals feel romantic love. A male blackbird; a female thrush; a black grouse; a pheasant; a stickleback fish: These and many other creatures, he reported, "fell in love with one another."
Scientists have not endorsed his view, despite vast evidence that Darwin had it right.
Hundreds of articles have been written about "mate choice," the habit of all creatures to express attraction toward some, while assiduously avoiding others. In fact, the animal literature uses several terms to describe this favoritism, including "mate preference," "selective proceptivity." "individual preference," "favoritism," "sexual choice" and "mate choice."
Moreover, scientists have recorded all of the core elements of romantic love in other creatures. They carefully describe how creatures, from rhinos to butterflies, focus their mating energy on a specific, preferred individual at a time.
Focus on a special other is a central component to human romantic love. Other creatures also obsessively follow "him" or "her," as humans do. They stroke, kiss, nip, nuzzle, pat, tap, lick, tug or chase this chosen one, behaviors you see regularly among humans. Most sing, dance, strut and preen for a beloved--just like men and women. Courting creatures great and small show excessive energy and sleeplessness, more core traits of human romantic passion.
And adversity heightens their pursuit--just as barriers intensify romantic love in people. And many animals become possessive, jealously guarding their mate until their breeding time has passed.
Some animals express this magnetism for only seconds; others become infatuated for hours, days or weeks. But, just as Darwin said, many fall in love at first sight.
Such was Violet, a female pug. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote of Violet's feelings for her other pug, Bingo, saying, "From the moment she set eyes on him, she adored him. Wanting only to be near him, to lavish her affection on him, she followed everywhere he went. The sound of his voice made her bark."
This instant attraction also happened to Thomas Jefferson. Historian Fawn Brodie wrote of him: "What Jefferson was told in advance about Maria Cosway is irrelevant, for if ever a man fell in love in a single afternoon it was he."
Today we have even more evidence that Darwin had it right. My colleagues and I have put 49 people who were madly in love into a brain scanner (fMRI) and mapped some of the brain pathways that generate feelings of romance.
The most dramatic activity occurs in the "reward system," the "wanting" system, the brain system that gives lovers their focus, energy, ecstasy and motivation to seek life's greatest prize, a mating partner. This same brain system also becomes active when other mammals express attraction.
How did Darwin manage to see this continuity between man and beast? I suspect biology played a role. In my new book, I maintain that humanity has evolved four broad basic styles of thinking and behaving based on our brain chemistry.
Men and women whom I have dubbed Explorers especially express their dopamine systems--predisposing them to take risks and seek novelty, to be curious, creative, energetic, impulsive, flexible and optimistic. Builders express more serotonin--predisposing them to be calm, social, networking, cautious, loyal, managerial and traditional. Directors are the high testosterone type--analytical, strategic, direct, decisive, tough minded, competitive and good at understanding math, machines or other spatial and "rule based" systems.
Last but not least are Negotiators, women and men who are particularly expressive of estrogen, giving them their broad, holistic, contextual view, their exquisite imagination and intuition, their verbal and people skills, their emotional expressivity and their compassion for all around them. Darwin, I believe, was a Negotiator, a man predisposed to see the vast physical--and emotional--connections between all living creatures.
Darwin wrote 17 books and over 100 scientific papers on phenomena as varied as orchids, barnacles and earthworms. But it was his two grand synthesizing theories of natural selection and sexual selection that would explain the evolution and proliferation of life on earth. Biologist Richard Dawkins called this set of principles "the most important idea to occur to a human mind."
Perhaps someday scientists and laymen alike will come to understand more about Darwin's mind, including something he told us 150 years ago: that animals share our human drive to love.