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The Psychology Behind Love (With Video)

Updated on June 26, 2012

What do you mean, Love?

If you are alive, you more than likely have experienced something we call love. Whether or not you feel you have ever been in love with another person, you have still experienced something that could qualify as love. Likely sources for this would be a parent, other relatives, caregivers, a mentor or even a close friend. But what does it mean to love and be loved? What is the difference between liking and love, infatuation or passion and love? How can you tell if you are in love or if the person you care for loves you and how do you know when someone is “right” for you? Science has taken a peek at all of these questions and produced some interesting answers that can at least scratch the surface of this complex phenomenon.

Simply Love

First, we can take a look at filial love, or the love one has for their family members, close relations or friends. This kind of love seems to just come naturally, without our even giving it a second thought. If you have had a relatively normal childhood, you have experienced love from one or both of your parents, your grandparents, aunts, uncles and so forth. You likely have also loved them. The simplest scientific explanation for this is the similarity in genetic composition you have with them. Facial features are likely very similar and things that are valued are also much the same. If your parents and relatives were encouraging and helped you learn and grow, you likely have a high regard for them and would suffer a great sense of personal loss if anything were to happen to them. On another front, you probably have people who have made a difference in your life that you feel attached to. These are likely the people who have helped you along the way, from a teacher to a minister to a close friend. This is, in part, because liking and helping are closely related. In studies done with infants, the character that assisted another character when it was struggling was nearly unanimously chosen over the one that did not, even when the characters were mere shapes acting out a simple drama. As for friends, have you ever noticed how much children laugh and giggle together? Studies have shown that one of the determinants of the strength and longevity of a relationship is the amount of laughter and smiles shared by the people in the relationship. But enough about that, romantic love is far more interesting!


It All Started With A Look

One of the strongest needs we have as the “social animals” that we are, is the need to belong. Whether you like to admit it or not, in some way or another, you belong to some group. Even if it is a group of people you only interact with online, these are the people you feel “at home” with, the people who “get” you and whom you can relate to. Throughout the course of our lives, we move from group to group, belonging, not belonging and seeking to belong. Ultimately, the majority of us have a strong need to “belong” to one special individual, someone with whom we can share our most intimate thoughts and feelings and know that we are safe. Some of the things that can determine how and when we may meet this special someone include:

  • Geographical nearness or proximity
  • How often our paths cross
  • The amount of closeness we feel (usually determined by amount of eye contact)
  • Attractiveness (pheromones, genetic makeup and similarity of appearance all play a part)
  • Likeability (more often than not, we like those who are more like us and share the same values)

Wanna Get a Cup of Coffee?

Once attraction has been established (usually through repeated contact and increased liking,) and with the appropriate sense of safety having been sensed, love may grow. Continued encounters may lead to purposeful meetings and outings. This could lead to the development of a relationship that leaves you needing answers to questions like, "Am I in love?" Some of the things that help this process along are things like:

  • Genuine praise
  • Rewarding behavior (positive shared experiences)
  • A perception that we are liked and appreciated
  • Approval (a growing high regard for the behavior of the other person will lead to this)
  • A seeming increase in physical attraction (brought on by the first four things in this list)

I Think I've Met "THE ONE"

Infatuation, passionate love and long-lasting romantic love are interesting, complex and difficult to study. This is because in order to gather empirical data, scientists must rely on the self-reporting they can gather from willing participants in their studies. It is important to note that while infatuation and passion are critical components of long-lasting romantic love, they are in fact, separate phenomenon. Unfortunately, many people confuse these concepts and end up in a variety of uncomfortable and unhappy situations. To begin with, infatuation is basically a heightened sense of liking, made up of the components we have previously discussed. While this is needed, to a degree, if a romantic relationship is to continue, alone, it does not constitute the kind of long-term love that most people yearn for. People who are in love and infatuated tend to do several things, including:

  • Telling each other secrets and developing trust
  • Playing games (toying with one another to establish boundaries)
  • Imitating one another’s behavior
  • Laughing, assisting one another with difficulties and extending eye contact


He's A Magic Man, Momma

Passionate love includes a strong sense of arousal and can usually be identified by intense sensation of longing for togetherness. In this type of love, people want to hold one another, spend hours together even if they are not doing anything in particular, get “butterflies” in their stomach when thinking of their partner and experience some level of stress and anxiety when apart. Often, physical contact and sexual behavior is included in passionate love, whether it is the act of holding hands, embracing, foreplay or consummate activity. There is a sort of adrenaline rush when people in passionate love encounter one another or are engaged in activities together and this can further heighten their satisfaction with the relationship. Passionate love can occur without a good liking foundation and often does. “Love at first sight” is very common and can lead people to make commitments to each other without even having taken the time to go through the basic steps of getting to know one another. Still, passionate love alone does not constitute the kind of long-lasting romantic engagement the majority of us are interested in. More often than not, people who make snap decisions while having a passionate affair with someone tend to “fall out of love” almost as quickly as they fell in.

Love that will last a Lifetime

The highest form of love, the kind most people sincerely yearn for is actually a combination of all the things we have discussed, on at least some level and a couple of other factors. The final pieces of the puzzle include companionship and social bonding. Being able to spend extended amounts of time with a person, get to know them, appreciate them in spite of their faults and having a desire to continue the relationship long into the future are indicators that love may be long-lasting. While it is true that you without exception you will have disagreements with anyone you spend enough time with, it is critical to realize that fighting and mud-slinging is never a good sign. In a good argument, each side presents its view and gives supporting evidence for holding that view. Often, this kind of argument can lead to satisfactory resolution of an issue or clarification of the rules of conduct and is actually very healthy. Another important element in a relationship is a sense of equality. When one or the other of the partners in a relationship does not regard their companion as an equal, problems will doubtless arise. There should never be a “little black book” in which a tally of scores is kept. When two people truly like one another, share values and tastes, appreciate one another’s physical features, are committed to each other’s well-being, have a shared sense of equality, infatuation and passion, chances are the relationship will endure. As years pass, some of the aspects of infatuation and passion may wax and wane but will never truly die. Problems will be solved together, even insurmountable tragedies may be conquered, and the relationship will survive intact. Scientific evidence points to this being the kind of love that you hear about when you read in the paper that a couple has shared a 75th wedding anniversary and says if they had it to do all over they would still marry their partner.

Excellent Love Documentary


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