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The Evolution of Valentine's Day

If Valentine's Day didn't exist, says anthropologist Helen Fisher, humans would feel compelled to create it. After several million years of evolution, she says, our brains are wired for love.

Cover of Why We Love

Anthropologist Helen Fisher's new book is 'Why We Love.'

"As humans we have a highly motivated drive toward romantic love," says Fisher, a Rutgers University professor who has devoted years of research to the subject.

Our nation's retailers won't argue. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend more than $12 billion on Valentine's Day this year. Fully 92.8 percent plan to purchase gifts for spouses and significant others -- including more than 36 million boxes of chocolate, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Fisher has written a new book called Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, detailing the ways our brains change when we are truly smitten. The chemical dopamine is released in liberal doses, granting lovers "focused attention, elation, energy and sleeplessness." And Fisher says that chocolate stimulates that feel-good chemical, causing a brief surge of energy. Likewise with flowers.

"Millions of years ago our ancestors lived in the trees," Fisher says. "They ate blossoms. They lived in a tropical environment for millions of years where the sight of flowers exulted them. We love flowers as they stimulate the senses."

"Valentine's Day is all about the senses," Fisher says, "and stimulating the human arousal system."

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