What is... psychology series

What is… Love

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In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms.  This week’s term is love.

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways…” began a famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  So how many different ways of loving are there?

From a psychological perspective, love is a social and cultural phenomenon as well as an individual emotional and cognitive experience.  It may be interpersonal, impersonal (i.e. focused on an object or a principle), or directed toward the self.  Interpersonal love may be mutual or unrequited.  Extreme examples include narcissism and erotomanic delusions (believing that another person, often famous, is in love with oneself).

Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love includes intimacy, commitment, and passion.  Different types of love, e.g. romantic or companionate, involve different combinations of these three elements.  Consummate love has all three of these elements present.

In psychologist Erich Fromm’s book The Art Of Loving, he argued that any sort of feeling of love is less important than the actions that demonstrate commitment.  While sensations of love may initially be involuntary, as time goes on it becomes a conscious choice of commitment.  So we may fall in love, but ultimately we make a choice to stay there.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, love is seen as a means to promote ongoing parental support of children and therefore increased survival of offspring.  From a biological viewpoint, it’s a primal mammalian drive along the lines of hunger or thirst.  Parental attachment is promoted by hormones including oxytocin, while pheromones are involved in sexual attraction.  During the falling in love stage, there is a rush of neurotransmitters including dopamine.

Love may also be examined from a philosophical perspective.  This includes questioning the nature, function, and value of love, distinguishing between different kinds of love, and considering the effects of love upon autonomy.  One might consider how they would go about explaining the apparently irrational behaviour associated with love to a hypothetical person who had never experienced love.

Love is a frequent theme in various ancient cultures as well as religious traditions.  Ancient Greeks described four types of love: kinship, friendship, sexual/romantic, and divine love.  In ancient China, the concept of benevolent love was an important part of Confucianism.   In Christianity, love is seen as coming from God, and in Judaism, love between marital partners is seen as an essential part of life.  In the Quran, one of the 99 names for Allah is Al-Wadud (The Loving One).  In Buddhism, there are several different terms to denote different kinds of love, which may range from selfish to selfless/elevated.

If there are so many different ways of looking at love, does it make sense to use the same word for all of them?  And while some forms, such as parent-child love, seem to be viewed much the same way universally, I wonder to what extent our notions of romantic love are culturally derived.  Does romantic love fit in with the (at least from what I remember) teenage binary view that there is a specific point where the great heart-bulb goes on over your head and you’re in love?  Should falling in love happen before or after (as may be the case in arranged marriages) the wedding?  And can you love someone and dislike them at the same time?

Do you have any thoughts to share on the great questions of love?

Source: Wikipedia: Love

Psychology resources: What Is insights into psychology series and psychological tests

The what is… series directory contains all of the terms that have been covered in the series thus far.

You can also find a collection of scientifically psychological tests here.

15 thoughts on “What is… Love”

  1. For myself, love has proven to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. It is a grossly misused word, and misinterpreted word. I am currently working on developing the self love aspect, as a pure survival method to get through the battles of life. Love can be a great thing, but when the trust is broken or the other action forms of the word don’t live up to the meaning of the word itself…it can be a sad, disheartening thing.

  2. “…feeling of love is less important than the actions that demonstrate commitment” – that’s an interesting one, like actions speak louder than words, so does meaning and action over feeling. Love is such a complex one. I do see a difference between loving someone and being in love, though not everyone makes that distinction. Love is certainly tumultuous, maddeningly complex, joyous, heartbreaking and beautiful all rolled into one!
    Caz x

  3. When I saw this title the “what is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more” popped into my head, haha! One thing I’ve been trying to grapple with is: is it possible to love more than one person at once in the same way? I’ve been reading a lot about polyamory and am not totally close-minded to the idea.

    Rachel || anotherstationanothermile.com

  4. Love, in it’s purist form, is uncontrollable. But wherein the love controls the outcome, generally known as peace. Love brings tranquility whether it is a physical, emotional, spiritual or mental love. All other results of love is a jealous cancer that disturbs the very soul of man. AKA as hate.

      1. That is good. Sometimes i wonder at my thought process… one, if i am coming across clearly and two, and most importantly, am i true in intention and purpose. It is one to write and another to be true. Even in fiction, not that fantasy is sin, but there are principles to follow and lessons in life to be learned.

        Maybe. 🙄 (😂) Finally catching up with blogs. Mondays, for now, are officially set aside to connect with others… enjoying your posts Ashley. 🧡j

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