Critically consider psychological explanations of love Essay
Critically consider psychological explanations of love
There are three psychological theories of love, The Three Factor Theory of Romantic Love, Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love and Romantic Love and Attachment. The three factor theory of romantic love suggested by Hatfield and Walster, recognises two types of love, passionate love and companionate love. Whilst passionate love can be seen as an intense physiological arousal which involves a longing for the other person, companionate love is more a feeling of affection towards those whom we feel deeply about.
Hatfield and Walster propose a theory to explain passionate love based on three factors; physiological arousal, appropriate love object and cultural exposure. The authors see love as a label that is placed on someone that we are physiologically aroused by. Experiencing this arousal will cause a person to state it is because of love, since this is what our culture teaches us happens when we are in love. This theory receives support from research by Dutton and Aron. In this study, male participants were interviewed on a high or low suspension bridge, by an attractive female.
The results supported the prediction that those males interviewed on a high bridge felt more sexual attraction to the woman, presumably because they experienced stronger physiological arousal. The males on the lower bridge felt less physical attraction, presumably because their physiological arousal was not as strong. It is possible that this theory could explain certain experiences such as love at first sight. However, since most people seem to fall in love gradually, this would suggest that for the majority of individuals, the label, love, comes first rather that the physiological arousal.
The theory is also more applicable to western rather then eastern or collectivist cultures. Sternberg defines love as – intimacy (sharing mutual understanding and emotional support), passion (involves physical attraction and sexual desire) and decision/commitment (involves the short-term decision that you love someone and a longer-term commitment to maintain that love). These three components of love can be combined in different ways to produce seven varieties of love; liking, infatuation, empty love, romantic love, compassionate love, fatuous love and consummate love.
These seven types of love form a triangle. Consummate love being in the center as it is the strongest form of love since it involves all three components. Sternberg believes that people have two different types of triangle. The first is based on an individuals own theory of love and is formed in a cultural context from watching television, observing parents, reading books, including listening to fairy tales when young. The second triangle is based on the individuals’ current relationship. According to Sternberg when two triangles are similar, relationships tend to be more successful.
The theory has practical applications – it is possible to measure the components in the two parties and then analyse the differences in the types of love shown by each partner. It helps pinpoint areas where change and compromise may be necessary. However, the components are rather vague, especially commitment, and it is therefore difficult to judge the basis on which one person decides to love another. Hazan and Shaver proposed that romantic relationships are attachment relationships, and that individual differences in adult attachment style, mirror those found by psychologists who studied attachment styles such as Ainsworth.
So rather than love being formed in a cultural context, Hazan and Shaver believe that love originates from a person’s early relationship with a primary caregiver. This theory developed out of two earlier pieces of research by Ainsworth and Bowlby. Ainsworth’s strange situation and the observation that children have three different styles of attachment – secure, insecure/anxious resistant and insecure/anxious avoidant. Bowlby’s belief that the mother’s behaviour towards the child creates an internal working model that leads the infant to expect the same in later relationships.
According to Hazan and Shaver, later love relationships can be predicted from a child’s attachment style. So therefore a secure child who had a positive image of a caring mother will have relationships in later life that are friendly, trusting and more enduring. A child classified as insecure/anxious resistant will have conflicting memories of the mother, both positive and rejecting, causing relationships in later life to consist of emotional highs and lows, with moments of jealousy and concerns whether their partners really love them.
Insecure/anxious avoidant children will remember their mother as cold and rejecting and have relationships in later life where they fear being close to someone and believe love is not necessary for happiness nor is it long lasting. Hazan and Shaver’s research receives support from a number of studies in that there does seem to be a relationship between early attachment experiences and later attitudes and behaviour to love for example Feeny and Noller 1990. However the research has all been correlational in this area, so it cannot be claimed that early attachment causes later relationships behaviour.
The relationship between the two could be caused by another factor. Kagon believes this other factor to be the temperament of the child. Infants are born with certain temperaments which determine the quality of their early relationships and these innate or genetic factors affect relationships throughout life. The three psychological theories of love provide partial explanations for this most intense of human emotion. Whilst Hatfield and Walster believe love to be a state of strong physiological arousal, Sternberg and Hazan and Shaver believe that love originates from a persons early relationships with a primary caregiver.
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