Discuss research into psychological explanations of love

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Last updated: September 14, 2020

One explanation of love is the Triangular Theory of Love, propounded by Sternberg, 1986. This theory portrays the idea of three main components of love: passion; intimacy; commitment. These three factors make up a ‘triangle’, and the more balanced the components are, the more successful the relationship. However, Sternberg claims this is difficult, as often there is one, or even two, components missing. This idea led to the construction of his typologies of love.

For example, consummaic love infatuation, companionate love and non love. Sternberg suggested we have two triangles; one which characterises our ideal relationship and another that characterises our current one. The more similar the two triangles are, the more successful the relationship. However, Sternberg spotted a flaw in his theory, it tells you where you are but not how you got there. This led to his second approach; from an early age we construct ideas of what love is through TV, films, books etc.

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Sternberg conducted a study on students and found 25 common love stories, for example, the gardening story and the fairytale story. Fehr supported this study, as opposed to distributing questionnaires, she asked participants to describe in their own words what love was, and then analysed the responses and categorized them. Arron and Westbay reinforced this study as it was found that the categories provided by Fehr were very similar to Sternberg’s categories.

The theory suggests that happy couples should have similar stories, which is what Steinberg found.However, he also found gender differences, that women tended to use the travel story (that their relationships was a journey headed somewhere), whilst men used art and pornography stories. Cultural differences were also found, Western cultures put emphasis on passion as being important in the initial stages of love,whilst non – Western cultures put emphasis on commitment. Hatfield and Walster propounded the Three Factor Theory, that love is a label we put on physiological arousal, the three components being: the object; cultural expectations; physiological arousal.This is supported by Dutton and Aron, who conducted the ‘Love on a sSupension Bridge’ study, where participants who were interviewed on a narrow, wobbly bridge over a cannon showed higher interest in the female interviewer than those who were interviewed on a small bridge over a stream.

The second theory is love as an attachment process, proposed by Hazan and Shaver. Bowlby suggested that caregivers’ care towards their infants determine their personalities later on in life. For example, if a caregiver is quick in responding to the child’s needs, the child will grow up to be confident.Bowlby then proposed the internal working model; that an infant’s expectations of love later on in life is influenced by the caregiver’s care. From this, Ainsworth proposed the three attachment styles: secure; insecure and resistant; avoidant.

Hazan and Shaver proposed the Continuity Hypothesis, which suggested that people’s later love relationships could be predicted from their attachement type. Shaver et al suggested there were three categories for love: attachment, caregiving and sexuality, and said that they can take different courses throughout later life and can influence the subtypes suggested by Hatfield and Walster.A strength of the Continuity Hypothesis is a study conducted by Feeney and Knoller, who asked participants what their attachment type was and to recall their experiences in love. They found that those who were securely attached reported good experiences in love (mutual trust and less likely to divorce), whilst the avoidant participants recalled bad experiences in love including finding it hard to find real love and also finding relationships difficult.This study is supported by Hazan and Shaver, who found that securely attached individuals tended to have long term relationships, whilst insecurely attached individuals tended to have short term relationships. A limitation of this theory is that it focuses on retrospective classification, the individuals were asked to recall their own attachment styles so their memory would have been flawed.

However, longitudinal studies, such as that conducted by McCarthy, used attachment styles that were reported at the time and found the same results. A further criticism is that it is correlational not experimental, there is no evidence attachment and relationships is cause and effect. For example, Kagan proposed the Temperament Hypothesis; that infants are born with certain temperaments, for example, being difficult, which would determine the mother child relationship.

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