‘The Chemistry of Politics’ is an ongoing blog series by biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Chemistry.com, Dr. Helen Fisher. Her research is based off of the Chemistry.com personality test, taken by over 10 million people worldwide.


Michelle Obama deeply believes her husband is a transformational president; she is as passionate about his success as he is about her happiness.  Indeed, a primary personal reason Obama wanted to be president was to spend more time with Michelle and their girls. Michelle and Barack Obama are fiercely loyal to one another; both also appear to be deeply in love.  What can neuroscience say about this earnest, talented and youthful couple?

In the parlance of my personality styles, Obama is most likely an Explorer/Negotiator. He is particularly expressive of the traits linked respectively with the dopamine and estrogen systems in the brain.  Michelle seems to be a Builder/Director instead, being far more expressive of traits linked with the serotonin and testosterone systems.  In terms of biology, Obama and Michelle married their opposite, their complement—bringing strength, breadth and richness to their pillow talk.

Take the complementarity of Barack the Explorer and Michelle the Builder.  Explorers take risks; only someone with a keen tolerance for danger would orchestrate a caper to drop in on Osama Bin Laden from the sky. Like most Explorers, Obama is also optimistic; he thinks big, ignores the barriers, and takes on more than he is sure he can accomplish. Michelle is cautious. Like most Builders, she likes concrete, achievable goals. She is a constant, pragmatic and meticulous planner who needs to know the smallest details before launching any new venture. And unlike her more trusting husband, Michelle is a contrarian; she is naturally suspicious. In short, Obama rides the pedal; Michelle hits the brakes.   But Obama brings novelty, challenge and creativity to their marriage; Michelle brings caution, an early warning system and stability.  Combined, these traits spell tremendous power.

Both also express different degrees of the high testosterone Director and high estrogen Negotiator.  They play cutthroat tennis against one another, for example, a sure sign of the competitive Director in both of them. But Michelle is far tougher in her daily relationships than her husband. She has no qualms about reprimanding those whom she feels have failed to do their job. She’s frank and independent-minded; indeed Obama looks to Michelle to play the “bad cop,” calling her “the boss.” If Michelle is direct, Obama is conflict-averse. He seeks harmony, a trait linked with estrogen. Remarkably, he gave Michelle the right to veto his run for the presidency.  She supported his vision on one condition: that he quit smoking. He probably needed her push.

This couple has deep admiration for one another. Like two feet, they count on each other to get ahead.  But I suspect they are also still passionately in love. As Michelle says of the 2012 election, no matter what happens, “We’ll be fine.”

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