How Do Psychologists Research Being in Love?

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How have social psychologists researched 'being in love'? What is love? According to McClelland (1986) “the mainstream view of love is that it is a state that arises from people mutually reinforcing each other or providing benefits to each other”. This is just one view and love is not that easy to define in one statement. The meaning of love is vast and there are a number of psychological theories that try to define and establish what this concept is. Being in love implies sexual desire and excitement, “ the common expression that people use to describe their passionate desires for one another” (Martin, Carlson & Buskist, p 758).
In order to examine the question as to how have social psychologist researched ‘being in love’, it will be necessary to discuss some of the theories that have been put forward, and look at their interpretation of the concept of ‘love’. The works of Robert Sternberg (1986,), John Lee (1973) Carlos Yela (1996) and Hatfield & Walster (1978) will be referred to in exploring the question of being in love Psychologist and Social Scientist Robert Sternberg (1986) proposed his triangular theory which categorised love relationships into three “orthogonal dimensions” which are intimacy, passion and commitment/decision commitment.
Sternberg (1986) argues that without these three dimensions, you don’t have love. “Each dimension contributes to the quality of love in a relationship. The quality of a relationship is represented by the relative magnitude of each component” (Hassebrauck & Buhl, 1996). The first component, intimacy, refers to the feeling of warmth, closeness, of bonding and of connectedness with someone in a loving relationship. Intimacy comes about when information or secrets are shared between two people and no one else. The second element is passion.



Passion leads to romance, which is an essential element, according to Sternberg, in a love relationship. Passion involves sexual consummation and physical attraction. The third element, commitment/decision commitment is a choice that is made by an individual to remain committed in a relationship. Although Sternberg theorized that the three elements are necessary to have love, he also went on to show that when one or more elements are missing, many variations of love are derived. Sternberg came up with seven different kinds of love that are liking, nfatuation, empty love, romantic love, compassionate love, fatuous love and consummate love. These seven variations form his triangle. One is able to easily identify the kind of love that is being expressed by looking at the mixture of elements that it is made up of. Carlos Yela (1996) proposed a structural theoretical model of love, which introduces some variations of Sternberg’s Triangular Theory model (1986). This was done to verify the usefulness of Sternberg’s theory to try to prove his four components: Erotic Passion, Romantic Passion, Intimacy and Commitment.
The dynamic side of the model was tested and the results conclude that Sternberg’s model can be used as an explanation for love. Some weaknesses of Sternberg’s theory (1986) are that outside of the western world, it is invalid, as a different value system exists in non-western societies where the components of love are not emphasized by intimacy, passion and commitment. Thus this theory cannot be applied across cultures. Also, according to Acker and Davis (1992), there were many gaps in his research in that firstly, the population was not widely represented, as these were graduates and under graduates with ages ranging from 18 – 28 years.
Also, the time frames on which this theory is based, where Sternberg states that as commitment speeds up, intimacy grows and where intimacy declines over time, is not mentioned. John Lee’s (1973) book ‘The Colors of Love’ used an analogy of colour wheel as a “conceptual scaffold” to compare his Love Styles. He went on to state that just as there are three primary colours on the wheel, so too there are three primary Love Styles. They are Eros, Ludus and Storge. Also, he went on to say that just as we can combine the primary colours on the colour wheel to produce secondary colours, so too can this be done with Love styles.
Many combinations can be derived from this, but focus was placed on the three secondary love styles, which are Mania (Eros + Ludos), Pragma (Ludos+ Storge), and Agape (Eros + Storge). Eros is a passionate, physical love based on physical appearance and beauty. It entails a deep physical attraction, based primarily on sexual pleasure. Ludus love is classes as ‘game-playing’ where love is treated as a contest or sport. There is almost no commitment as when the relationship becomes too boring, they move on to their next conquest.
Storge love is an affectionate love that slowly develops and is based on friendship or companionate love, and is considered to be honest, loyal, and mature. Mania is possessive love that is highly emotional where there is jealousy, obsession and conflict. Pragma love is pragmatic or logical love where individuals take a practical or rational approach in selecting their partner with the view that both parties benefit from the relationship and that they are compatible for each other. Agape love is selfless where there is unconditional caring, forgiving, and giving.
Sacrifices are made for love and the happiness of the partner is put above their own. Hendrick and Hendrick (1988) stated that within a relationship, men and women use more than one love style and over time, the styles may vary. Hatfield & Walster’s (1978) book ‘A New Look at Love’, separates passionate love from companionate love. Hatfield et al (1978) describes passionate love as a state of intense physiological desire/longing to be with the other person, and companionate love as the feeling of affection, mutual understanding and respect for the people in our lives that we have deep feelings for.
Hatfield spent a great deal of her professional career investigating passionate love (Livermore, 1993) and what was proposed to explain this were three factors: - physiological arousal, appropriate love object and cultural exposure. Passionate love occurs when physiological arousal is experienced in the presence of someone that the love label has been placed on and we term this as being in love as our culture teaches us this Passionate love is seen to be transitory, only lasting a short time, which then leads on to companionate love or friendship.
Hatfield (1978) believed that the existence of both companionate and passionate love at the same time in a relationship to be rare to almost impossible, even though this combination is seen to be the ideal balance where there is security and stability of companionate love with the intensity of passionate love. There is evidence in support of this theory by Dutton & Aron (1974) Love on a suspension bridge wherby men were interviewed by an attractive woman whilst standing on a low and high suspension bridge.
The results supported the hypothesis that the men on the high suspension bridge would feel more attracted to the woman than those on the low suspension bridge. This was assumed to be the case as because of their height there was an increase in their physiological arousal and as a result they mistook this for sexual attraction in the presence of the attractive woman. In conclusion, we have seen that there is no single definition of love and the each psychological view is different from the other. There is no hard and fast definition of love and what being in love is.
We have also see how useful the different interpretations and viewpoints are. The psychological theories of love provide partial explanations for this most intense of human emotion. In summary, after examining the various theories, we can conclude that love is a complex subject of which there will always be new theories evolving as human life progresses and no one answer REFERENCES Acker, M. , & Davis, M. H. (1992). Intimacy, passion, and commitment in adult relationship: A test of the Triangular Theory of Love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 9, 21-50.
Dutton, D. G. and Aron, A. P. (1974). Some Evidence for Heightened Sexual Attraction Under Conditions of High Anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 510-517. Hatfield, E. , & Walster, G. W. (1978). A new look at love. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Hendrick, C. , and Hendrick, S. S. (1988). Lovers wear rose coloured glasses. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 5, 161-183 Hassebrauck, M. , Buhl, T. (1996). The Journal of Social Psychology, 136, 1, 121-122 Lee, J. (1973). The color wheel model of love. Chicago: Addison.
Livermore, B. (1993). Lessons of love. Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 93 Martin, G. N. , Carlson, N. R. and Buskist, W. (2007). Psychology. 3rd edn. Essex: Pearsons Education Ltd. McClelland, D. (1986). Journal of Personality, 54, 2 , 334 – 353, Duke University. Press Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135. Yela, C. (1996). Componentes basicos del amor: Algunas matizaciones al modelo de R. J. Sternberg [Basic components of love: some refinements to the model of R. J. Sternberg]. Re-vista de Psicologia Social, 11(2), 185-201.

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