Friday, November 4, 2011

A Little Bit About Why We Love

Good evening LOVEanese! And of course, happy Friday :)

I've been so busy with the AUSACE 2011 Conference that was held last week through this week at AUB that I haven't had anytime to blog. But now that it's over, this blog is moving up to the top of my priorities. Before I get into the topic for today, I just want to do some housekeeping as usual. The biggest news I have is that after this post, I'm going to try to get into some of the blog post ideas that people have been submitting to me. The reason I haven't addressed them until now is because they are going to require a lot of research, and that takes time that I didn't have before now. So be on the look-out. Now that the posts have gained more readership and I've established my foundation of sorts, I want to get into more "contentious" things that people deal with such as breaking down the "nice guy vs. asshole" debate, growing up in two cultures and its effect on relationship development, and discussing how to "move on" when break-ups occur.

For now, what I want to focus on is a little bit about why we love. I want to highlight two different perspectives, one is a psychological approach (specifically, taken from evolutionary psych.), and the other is a more structural functionalist sociological approach. Bear in mind that the two pieces of research (with accompanied links) are not the end-all of this topic. Numerous individuals spanning across almost every discipline, both academic and non-academic, have taken a shot at this question (for instance, this is what a philosopher has to say about it, while others such as the interpersonal psychologist Arthur Aron, Ph.D. (e.g., Aron and Aron, 1991; Aron and Henkemeyer, 1995; Acevedo and Aron, 2009) talk about it here.

However, one person in particular has really captivated me in his approach to love: Steven Pinker.

He is a noted psychologist at Harvard (he's even on TED!) who is the author of the book How the Mind Works (1999) (check it out on Amazon too). He succinctly answers this question in a mind-blowing way in less than just 3 pages. To put it in perspective, that's 3 pagers out of of his 662 page book. That's less printed space than the amount that J. K. Rowling wrote for Harry's first Christmas in the Sorcerer's Stone! And it's a book that's been cited over 4,150 times

Invisibility cloak: check. Firebolt broomstick: check. Box of chocolate-covered frogs: check. Cho Chang's love: denied.

This is an excerpt from my thesis where I discuss his ideas:

"Pinker (1999) reduces dating down to a marketplace for mate selection. Just as an individual prefers the best version of the product they desire, this is applicable to searching for monogamous romantic partners as well (the product being a romantic partner that is the most attractive, intelligent, funny, rich, etc.). Rationality, however, does not govern these "dating marketplace" transactions. On the contrary, something irrational and emotional does: romantic love. This has to occur to safeguard against someone better disrupting a relationship, and ensures a more committed relationship. According to him, romantic love exists as the metaphorical glue that binds two individuals together in a romantic relationship, and provides the security and insurance against finding or searching for a different, perhaps even better, partner (Pinker, 1999)."

"Hey, so I'm looking for a couple of items. Some apples, a box of Band-Aids, a silver necklace, and a smart, funny, good-looking guy with nice parents who isn't threatened by change. Which souq should I check out?"

I have some issues with this reduction/analogy. Namely, it does not comment on the role that social institutions, social structure, and culture play in affecting romantic relationships, the "dating marketplace," or romantic love, especially contextualized to different societies such as the Arab world. Regardless, however, this is definitely interesting. Especially when you couple it with other (psychological) research.

In this article, for instance, one (non-academic) author discusses why love is important by imploring Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943) to show how important love is for humans because "[love is] something humans are motivated to have or achieve. Love is a motivating goal for humans, and our behavior can be explained by our attempts to achieve this goal." In Maslow's terms, it is more or less a necessity of human existence. Moreover, this author as well as this one (ABCNews) and this one (NPR) invoke scholarship that, through MRI tests, has linked romantic love to various hormone emitters in the brain. It is connected to a motivations/rewards system that creates feelings of pleasure and excitement. According to the research they cite, "romantic attraction is an ancient biological drive, as are hunger and sex."

Maslow's (1943) Hierarchy of Needs Triangle

Other researchers have documented that romantic love and relationships are associated with better mental and physical health (Argyle, 1992; Traupmann and Hatfield, 1981; Schwarzer and Leppin, 1989; Park, 2004; Braithwaite, Delevi, and Fincham, 2010). Others have noted that being in love is linked to happiness (Ross, Mirowsky, and Goldsteen, 1990; Aron and Henkemeyer, 1995), higher well–being (Stack and Eshleman, 1998; Diener and Lucas, 2000; Diener et al., 2000; Khaleque, 2004; Demir, 2008), life satisfaction (Kim and Hatfield, 2004), higher self–esteem (Samet and Kelly, 1987), and relationship satisfaction in both long–term and short–term relationships (Acevedo and Aron, 2009). 

Another perspective on love is taken out of sociological structural functionalism. It's explained by this short video: 


Here's the text of what he said in the video: "The function of romantic love in American society appears to be to motivate individuals--where there is no other means of motivating them--to occupy the positions husband-father and wife-mother, and form nuclear families that are essential not only for reproduction and socialization, but also to maintain the existing arrangements for distributing and consuming goods and services, and, in general, to keep the social system in proper working order, and thus maintaining it as a going concern" (Greenfield, 1965) (Available on JSTOR here).

Let's move past some of the obvious downfalls of this statement. The first, and probably most annoying, is that it's a run-on sentence. How can you ever trust someone with bad (elementary) grammar!? Secondly, functionalism is dead and is highly criticized. Lastly, it is based only on the American model, and is an outdated one at that. However, if you look at some of the points he is making, he is on to something. That is, that love is used by modern society to encourage reproduction, maintain a capitalistic system, and as a motivator. So even across disciplines, he love sees love as a motivator just like Maslow and Pinker.

Why do YOU think we love? And I think more importantly, does this reason change from culture-to-culture, or is it universal to all humans? What motivates you?? Why do YOU love?

Tell me.

Have a good weekend, and as always:

Spread the love,


Acevedo, Bianca P., and Arthur Aron. 2009. "Does a Long–Term Relationship Kill Romantic Love?" Review of General Psychology, 13(1): 59-65.

Argyle, Michael. 1992. "Benefits Produced by Supportive Social Relationships." Pp. 13-31 in The Meaning and Measurement of Social Support, edited by Hans O. F. Veiel and Urs Baumann. New York, NY: Hemisphere.

Aron, Arthur, and Elaine N. Aron. 1991. "Love and Sexuality." Pp. 25-48 in Sexuality in Close Relationships, edited by Kathleen McKinney and Susan Sprecher. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Aron, Arthur, and Lisa Henkemeyer. 1995. "Marital Satisfaction and Passionate Love." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12: 139-146.

Braithwaite, Scott R., Raquel Delevi, and Frank D. Fincham. 2010. "Romantic Relationships and the Physical and Mental Health of College Students." Personal Relationships, 17: 1-12.

Demir, Melik┼čah. 2008. "Sweetheart, You Really Make Me Happy: Romantic Relationship Quality and Personality as Predictors of Happiness Among Emerging Adults." Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2): 257-277.

Diener, Ed, and Richard E. Lucas. 2000. "Subjective Emotional Well–Being." Pp. 325-337 in The Handbook of Emotions (2nd edition), edited by Michael Lewis and Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Diener, Ed, Carol L. Gohm, Eunkook Suh, and Shigehiro Oishi. 2000. "Similarity of the Relations Between Marital Status and Subjective Well–Being Across Cultures." Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31: 419-436.

Greenfield, Sidney M. 1965. "Love and Marriage in Modern America: A Functional Analysis." The Sociological Quarterly, 6(4): 361-377.

Khaleque, Abdul R. 2004. "Intimate Adult Relationships, Quality of Life, and Psychological Adjustment." Social Indicators Research, 69: 351–360.

Kim, Jungsik, and Elaine Hatfield. 2004. "Love Types and Subjective Well–Being: A Cross-Cultural Study." Social Behavior and Personality, 32(2): 173-182.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1943. "A Theory of Human Motivation." Psychological Review, 50(4): 370-396.

Park, Nansook. 2004. "The Role of Subjective Well–Being in Positive Youth Development." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591: 25-39.

Pinker, Steven. 1999. How the Mind Works. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Ross, Catherine E., John Mirowsky, and Karen Goldsteen. 1990. "The Impact of the Family on Health: The Decade in Review." Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52(4): 1059-1078.

Samet, Naomi, and Eugene. W. Kelly. 1987. "The Relationship of Steady Dating to Self–Esteem and Sex Role Identity Among Adolescents." Adolescence, 22(85): 231-245.

Schwarzer, Ralf, and Anja Leppin. 1989. "Social Support and Health: A Meta–Analysis." Psychology and Health, 3(1): 1-15.

Stack, Steven, and J. Ross Eshleman. 1998. "Marital Status and Happiness: A 17–Nation Study." Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60: 527-536.

Traupmann, Jane, and Elaine Hatfield. 1981. "Love and Its Effect on Mental and Physical Health." Pp. 253-274 in Aging: Stability and Change in the Family, edited by Robert W. Fogel, Elaine Hatfield, and E. Shanas. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.


  1. Nice choice of topic!

  2. Oh my! I so love your topic! I'm really looking for answers about this question of yours and I'm so thankful that I come across your blog. It really helped me alot. Thank you so much.

    1. Wow, thank you! I'm really happy to hear that! Feel free to check out other posts :) I really appreciate it

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