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Jim Butler
November 2016.
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Is there a psychological basis for love?
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Of course there is, but it depends on how we are defining “love”. For psychologists, love is a cognitive, emotional, and behavioural phenomenon. In his Triangular Theory of Love, Robert Sternberg argues love has three components – intimacy, commitment, and passion.

Intimacy is a form of love in which people share feelings of closeness and attachment to one another. Passion is usually associated with strong feelings of physical and emotional arousal – whether that’s a strong feeling of excitement about doing something or a strong sexual feeling toward someone. Unlike the other two dimensions, commitment involves a conscious decision to maintain a relationship.

According to Sternberg, the amount of love you experience depends on the strength of these three components, and the type you experience depends on the relative strengths of each dimension to each other. For example, liking only includes intimacy – whereas consummate love includes intimacy, commitment, and passion.

"The psychologist Helen Fisher divides the experience of love into lust, attraction, and attachment."

Others have proposed different ways of understanding of love. The psychologist John Alan Lee, for example, proposed a colour wheel of love, which defines three primary love styles: eros, which refers to erotic or passionate love; ludus, which refers to game-playing love, and; storge, which refers to commitment to one another and is based on friendship.

Like Sternberg’s theory, Lee’s colour wheel of love suggests that different stages and types of love can be explained by different combination of love-styles. What all these different models have in common is that they make a distinction between passionate love (an intense longing for another person) and other types of romantic love, mainly what has been called compassionate love (the affection we feel for people whom our lives are entwined with).

But it is also important to consider the biological basis of love. The psychologist Helen Fisher divides the experience of love into lust, attraction, and attachment. In her view, lust is an intense feeling of sexual desire, whereas romantic attraction is determined by what individuals find attractive. Attachment involves a longer-term commitment to one another. According to Fisher, different neural circuitries are associated with each of these love types. For example, lust involves increased release of chemicals, such as testosterone and oestrogen, but its effects are short-lived.

Lastly, some evolutionary psychologists argue that love is a human drive, similar to hunger or thirst. Love may have evolved in human evolutionary history because it promotes parental support of children for an extended period of time. Cultural norms may have also helped to shift human beings away from polygamous relationships into monogamous relationships over time.

Viren Swami is the author of Attraction Explained: The Science Of How We Form Relationships, published by Routledge.