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 enamored 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. The consummate form encompasses all three of these elements.
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 the initial sensations may 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.
Hormones and neurotransmitters get all aflutter. 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.
A philosophical perspective may include questioning the nature, function, and value of love, distinguishing between different kinds, and considering its effects on 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 that feeling.
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.
- China: benevolent love was an important part of Confucianism in ancient China
- Christianity: love is seen as coming from God
- Judaism: love between marital partners is seen as an essential part of life
- Islam: of the 99 names for Allah in the Quran, one is Al-Wadud (The Loving One)
- Buddhism: recognizes several different terms to denote different kinds of love, which may range from selfish to selfless/elevated.
Is it all one concept?
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, seem to be viewed much the same way universally, I wonder to what extent our notions of romantic love are culturally derived. 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?
What are your thoughts?
Source: Wikipedia: Love
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.