Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Love

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What is it and why does it happen?
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.
The ultimate love story. Romeo and Juliet is the tale of two star-crossed lovers whose death unite each others families. It is one of Shakespeare's most popular stories of young love.


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Saying the words “I love you” can inspire, give people hope, commit to devotion, and cause both sacrifice and tragedy, and in today’s society it represents more than just an expression of feelings, but a commitment to motivate future behaviours. Love is an emotion whereby feelings of strong affection and personal attachment are connected to another individual. In the philosophical realm, love is a virtue which, generally speaking, represents all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. In other contexts, it is also used to describe loving actions towards others, such as compassion.

In historical terms, love has been the focal point of some of the greatest literature, most importantly the works of Shakespeare, music, and paintings, and the question of what is love has been investigated by philosophers, theologians, and psychologists (Neto, 2010). The word love has many different meanings, and is used in several different contexts but the focus in this chapter is interpersonal love, which is the emotion felt by one person towards another person, basically reciprocal love. The relevance of this topic is clearly apparent in our society[who?] with people dressing up to go out on the town to bars and night clubs, or people looking to the internet to that someone[say what?]. For people to fall in love it takes time and effort, and cultural expectations can have a huge impact on this process.

This chapter focuses on love between two people. Love is central to so many people’s lives[factual?]. In social psychology circles, there is a large quantity of evidence that supports the idea that for most people, love and sex are tightly related, so much so that many find it hard to imagine having passionate love without sexual desire (Forster, 2010). It is one of the few ways that life is given meaning, and in many ways is seen every day, and is extremely important. Men and women fall in love all the time. When this happens they will both believe that the person they are with is their true love, their one and only; they could make a meaningful and personal commitment to the other person, after which they could decide to get married[factual?]. Where does this reciprocal attraction stem from? Why did these people fall in love with each other instead of another person? As humans, what motivates us to seek love from others? Why do we fall in love? And is it a chemical reaction that causes love, does it have more to do with psychological factors, or is the reason we love based in our evolutionary history?

Types of love

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Intrapersonal love

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A heart

Interpersonal love is the term used to describe love between human beings. It is a more powerful word than just liking someone, and carries greater sentiment.


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Self-love is believed by many to be a prerequisite for loving others (Campbell, 2002).

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Explanations are plentiful for why self-love can help promote love for others. One is that individuals who do not love themselves have the belief that others cannot love them, and in the process avoid relationships. Another is that without self-love, an individual will pursue a self-destructive attitude and get into bad relationships (Campbell, 2002). The Ancient Greeks painted a different picture of self-love, more specifically in the story of Narcissus, who was the personification of self-love. He believed himself more beautiful and better than those around him, but it was this self-love that stopped Narcissus from forming actual loving relationships. He eventually fell in love with his own image in a pool of water and died (Campbell, 2002). It can therefore be assumed that the Greeks saw self-love as an obstacle to overcome in order to love others, as well as the cause of suffering to others and the self (Campbell, 2002).

The phenomenon of falling in love

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Falling in love has a power, of which[grammar?] has been expansively studied, resulting in several phases of falling in love which have been specified (Määttä, 2010). For many, falling in love can produce a powerful emotional response that can cause a temporary, and captivating metamorphosis. The changes that many see can be placed into three categories:

  1. For the individual who is in love, his/her surroundings become much more positive. Reality seems brighter, people they meet seem friendlier, and in some cases, voices, sound more melodic (Määttä, 2010).
  2. The individual in love sees their partner with admiration. This entails his/her positive features being emphasised more, whilst their negative features are ignored (Määttä, 2010).
  3. Self respect of the person who is in love increases. This is found through the positive words one receives that are filled with love that prove that one is worth loving. The by product of this is contentment and happiness. In essence, being in love gives the in love person strength, and meaning for their existence (Määttä, 2010).

Theories of intrapersonal love

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The biological view of sex and love see it as a mammalian drive, and is comparable to hunger or thirst. The experience of love can be divided into three phases, which partly overlap. They are lust, attraction, and attachment (Fisher, 2002). Lust is the individual’s sex drive, and is categorised by a craving for sexual gratification. Estrogens and androgens are the most commonly associated bodily chemicals that fall into this phase, with both being the female and the male sex hormones (Fisher, 2002). The effects of these chemicals rarely last longer than a few weeks, and in some cases, months.

Phases What Happens?
Lust Craves sexual gratification
Attraction Romantic love
Attachment Long term relationships

The attraction system, which is commonly known as romantic love is characterised by increases in energy, and focused attention on a preferred mating partner. For many of us, this phase is characterised by exhilaration, and a craving for an emotional connection with the partner (Fisher, 2002). All signs from recent studies in neuroscience have pointed towards the brain releasing certain chemical when in love. These chemicals include pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all of which stimulate the brain’s pleasure centre, causing side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and intense feelings of excitement (Fisher, 2002). This stage generally lasts for around one and a half to three years (Fisher, 2002).

With both the lust and the romantic love stages only being temporary, a third stage is thus needed to establish and account for long term relationships. The attachment phase of male-female love is the bonding that helps relationships last for several years, as well as decades and is characterised by feelings of calm, security, social comfort, and emotional union (Fisher, 2002). Commitments such as marriage or children, is where the attachment phase is generally based upon, sort of a mutual defence. Chemicals such as oxytocin and vasopressin have been linked in higher quantities in this phase, in comparison to short term relationships (Fisher, 2002).

The motivation and emotion system of lust, attraction, and attachment is not only associated with neurotransmitters and hormones, but different behavioural activities, as they evolve to direct different aspects of reproduction (Fisher, 2002). The sex drive, or lust phase, evolved to predominantly motivate people to seek sex with different members of the species. The attraction phase evolved as a way to conserve mating time and energy, allowing individuals to focus their attention on genetically superior individuals (Fisher, 2002). The motivation for the final phase, was for the individuals to sustain connections with another individual long enough to finish species specific parental duties. In modern terms, this would translate to the children growing up and leaving home (Fisher, 2002).


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Psychological theories of love and mate-seeking tend to be more complicated than both the biological and evolutionary theories, but generally speaking, social psychologists tend to understand peoples sexual motivations from a biopsychosocial perspective[explain?]. If we are to understand people’s attitudes, motives, and behaviours towards love we must consider their immediate situation in regards to their gender roles, social experience, social structures, and their local ecologies (Wood, 2002).

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A couple in the midst of a romantic kiss.

Wood and Eagley’s (2002) theory that culture, socialisation, and reproductive capacities influences both men and women’s mate seeking behaviours and motivations has a large amount of support, and for example can be seen in patriarchal societies. In this form of society, men generally hold the power, and men are given the role of protector and provider, while women are assigned the childbearing and childrearing activities (Hatfield, 2010).

Sternberg (1986) theorised that the development of love and its stability has three components; this was known as the triangular theory. There are three mechanisms to this theory. The first is passion is the motivation to show infatuation along with romantic love[grammar?]. The second is commitment or decision, which is a cognitive component that has two temporary phases. The first is the short term decision that one individual loves someone else, and the second is the long term commitment to maintaining the professed love (Bradley, 2002). Intimacy is the third mechanism, and it refers to the feelings that cause an individual to experience emotional warmth, and attachment, such as closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. Passion is considered a relatively unstable aspect of this theory whilst commitment and intimacy are seen as relatively stable (Sternberg, 1986).


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Evolutionary psychologists have proposed more than a few theories of love. Research has found that both men and women respond more to cultural and social conditions than to genetic cues (Hatfiled, 2010). Human children are for at least one quarter of their life dependent on parental help. Love has therefore been postulated to be a mechanism that promotes the support from both parents of the child or children for the period of time that they are dependent on the adults (Hatfiled, 2010).

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Part of human pair bonding is to aid in raising children.

One theory has proposed that humans are designed to be monogamists. This theory argues that we as humans are serial monogamists, with couples who stay together living longer than those who part (Fisher, 1992; Dowling, 1996; Schmitt, 2001). One other theory that is a little more controversial is that sexually transmitted diseases cause people to favour long term relationships with the one partner. This is due to the side effects which can cause reduced fertility, harm to the foetus, and increased complications during childbirth. Remaining in long term relationships reduces the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (Hatfiled, 2010).

How does our culture shape how we perceive love?

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Culture is one particular area that can influence romantic relationships, especially in adolescents. In Western societies such as the United States, love is promoted through ideas of passion and romance, whilst others cultures and ethnic groups will emphasise selflessness, family, and respect (Williams, 2010). Our culture and its norms can even impact the timing of relationship milestones (such as the first date, first kiss, and the first serious relationship) along with how love affects a romantic relationship.

Crissey (2005) reported that both Hispanic and White adolescents have similar expectations for getting married at some point in their lives, but the difference was that White adolescents are more likely to date earlier than Hispanic adolescents, while Hispanic adolescents often engaged in sexual activity earlier, and with more than one partner. Due to this they also experienced higher pregnancy rates than White adolescents (Crissy, 2005). Due to the high value that is placed on family and parenthood in Mexican culture, Mexican American adolescents may experience sexual activity and pregnancy earlier than their White adolescent counterparts. Adherence to cultural beliefs can influence how individuals interpret love when in a romantic relationship, and Hispanic adolescent girls express a desire for an earlier transition from sexual activity to marriage (Chrissy, 2005).

Lee's love styles

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Love Style What it Means
Eros Physical, passionate, love of beauty.
Ludus Quantity over quality.
Storge Slowly develops from friendship into affectionate love.
Pragma Rational. they love with their head and not their heart.
Mania Obsessive lover.
Agape A selfless lover.

Lee (1973, 1988) came up with an influential approach to the psychology of love known as love styles. The metaphor of a colour wheel was used to describe that love, like colours has primary, secondary and tertiary mixes, with most of Lees’ research focused on six independent love styles (Neto, 2010). The primary love styles included Eros, Ludus, and Storge. Next was a mixture of two of each of the primary love styles which would form three of the secondary styles. They were, Pragma (mixture of Storge and Ludus), Mania (Eros and Ludus), Agape (Eros, Storge) (Neto, 2010).

In Lee’s model Eros represented individuals who were emotionally intense, and is literally the love of beauty. Ludus represents in modern terms what would be known as a "player". They enjoy having multiple partners, while having no interest in making a deep commitment to a single person (Neto, 2010). They prefer quantity to quality. Storge love is a type of love that develops slowly out of friendship. Essentially, a storge lover wishes for their partner to be their best friend. Mania is characterised by insecurity and low self esteem. This often leads to feelings of jealousy and possessiveness (Neto, 2010). The agape love style is the selfless lover. They are often quite willing to make sacrifices for their lover. Pragma lovers are often rational and realistic about their expectations in their lovers. This form of love style is often seen as cold as there is a lack of emotion (Neto, 2010).

Lee’s theory is still important today, with findings suggesting that men tend to be more of a ludus, whilst women of storgic or pragmatic. In teenagers, mania is often the first love style they display (Neto, 2010). Recent research has also indicated that there is a genetic link to two of Lee’s love styles. Eros has been linked with increased dopamine, while Mania has been linked with increased serotonin (Neto, 2010).

Examples in the media

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There are many movies and television shows out there which have themes of love, and here are a few examples of it.

50 First Dates (2004)

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The movie 50 First Dates (2004) tells the story of Henry Roth, who is somewhat of a playboy, meets Lucy, a woman, whose short term memory loss causes her to forget every memory from the previous day. Henry must win the affections of his beloved each day by creating creative way to engage her. In one scene Henry meets Lucy over breakfast, and they connect, after which they both privately celebrate their first meeting.

  1. How well do you think this movie portrays two people falling in love?
  2. Do you think it is important for couples to have positive memories of when they first met? What do you believe would result if their first memories of each other were negative?

Casino Royale (2006)

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Bond. James Bond (2006)

In one of the James Bond movies, Casino Royale (2006), James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, meets his female accomplice, and later, his lover, Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green. Their first meeting is not pleasant.

  1. In comparison to the first example of 50 First Dates, the meeting of Bond and Lynd is not pleasant. Are first meetings always pleasant?

How I Met Your Mother (2005)

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The television show How I Met Your Mother (2005) is about Tod Mosby retelling the story of how he met his future wife to his children. Throughout the show Ted searches for the woman of his dreams, and he believed that he found his true love in Robin. They have a romantic relationship, for a while, even saying they love each other, but they eventually break up and she later becomes known to Ted’s children as Aunt Robin.

  1. Does Ted set himself up for more pain by constantly falling in love, or is it just a fundamental experience in life?


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We see examples of love in everyday life, whether it be on television or on the movie screen. Falling in love, for many, will produce strong feelings, and bring upon a cascade of emotions. As humans we are able to give and obtain pleasure in a variety of ways. Some pleasures relate to our biological drives, and many are both a combination of our biological and cultural heritage. The meaning of love, how we express it, and its attainment, is not completely determined by our culture, but to a large extent is shaped by it. Gaining love from others is a fundamental aspect of a satisfying life, whilst moderating your own self-love can provide you the ability to love others.


1 Who came up with the Triangular Theory of Love?

Bob Dylan

2 What isn't a phase of love according to the biological theory?


3 Which emotion isn't considered to be part of the "dark side" of love?

Excessive Dependency

4 Why did the Ancient Greeks believe self-love was harmful?

Stops the formation of loving relationships
It causes a self-destructive attitude
You could die

See also

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Bradley, R. T. (2002). Love and Power, and the Development of Brain, Mind, and Agency. World Futures, 58, 175-211.

Branden, N. (1994). The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books.

Campbell, W. K., Foster, C. A., Finkel, E. J. (2002). Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others? A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 340-354.

Crissey, S. R. (2005). Race/ethnic differences in the marital expectations of adolescents: The role of romantic relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 697–709.

Dowling, D. S. (1996). Is Monogamy Natural? South African Journal of Philosophy, 15(3), 91. Fisher, H. (1992). The anatomy of love. New York: Norton.

Fisher, H. E., Aron, A., Maskek, D., Haifang, L., & Brown, L. L. (2002). Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 31 (5), 413-419.

Forster, J. (2010). How Love and Sex can Influence Recognition of Faces and Words: A Processing Model Account. European Journal of Social Psyhcology, 40, 524-535.

Hatfield, E., Luckhurst, C., & Rapson, R. L. (2010). Sexual Motives: Cultural, Evolutionary, and Social Psychological Perspectives. Sexuality & Cultutre, 14, 173-190.

Lee, J. A. (1973). The colors of love: An exploration of the ways of loving. Toronto: New Press.

Lee, J. A. (1988). Love-styles. In R. J. Sternberg & M. L. Barnes (Eds.), The psychology of love (pp. 38-67). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Määttä, K. (2010). How to Learn to Love – How to Guide the Young to Love? Georgian Electronic Scientific Journal: Education Science and Psychology, 2 (17), 47-53.

Neto, F. (2010). Explorations of PsychologyEXPLORATIONS OF PSYCHOLOGY THROUGH ART: LOVE STYLES. College Student Journal, 44(2), 448-457.

Schmitt, D. P., Shakelford, T. K., Duntley, J., Tooke, W., & Buss, D. M. (2001). The Desire for Sexual Variety as a Key to Understanding Basic Human Mating Strategies. Personal Relationships, 8, 425-455.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A Triangular Theory of Love. Psychological Review, 93, 2: 119–135.

Williams, L. R., & Hickle, K. E. (2010). “I Know What Love Means”: Qualitative Descriptions From Mexican American and White Adolescents. Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment, 20, 581-600.

Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 699–727.