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The Psychophysiological Correlates of Falling In Love Essay

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Updated: Jan 16th, 2019

The issue of love is so complex that many scholars, playwrights and poets alike are completely baffled by it. So much so that the great bard Shakespeare had to ask, “what tis to love?” (Fisher, 2004). One can only infer that the same question had baffled many before his time. At the moment, researchers are actively involved in the identification and isolation of the genetic and neural components that underlies the concept of love that is so unique and central to the emotions of humans.

Previously, artists, poets, playwrights, and to a certain extent, psychologists were the only professionals who seemed to have been concerned with the issues of love. Poets composed poems with love as the main theme. In the same way, playwrights used the theme of love in their publications to express their views on what really entails love. However, more researchers have now been seen to embrace the concept of love at a deeper academic level, going by the increased number of studies being undertaken on the subject of love.

Commitment, passion, intimacy, attachment, jealousy, and grief following separation constitutes several of the numerous terms used in depicting the symbols of love (Tobias & Stefano, 2005). In contrast, science regards love as more of a multi-dimensional and hypothetical construct with a multitude of versions and implications involved.

Few researchers have thus far endeavored to assess the issue of love along with its associated emotional behaviors and states through the application of scientific means. This might be the case in part because for a long time now artists and poets have been seen to dominate the field of love, along with the clinicians and psychologists to a lesser extent.

Nevertheless, scientists are yet to consider investigating the issue of love on a larger scale using experimental science. Such feelings and emotions as attachment, love, and parental and couple bonding, often deduced to be a characteristic of the higher mammals and which have been neglected by experimental research for centuries, appear now to be the main focus for researchers in an attempt to further gain an insight into the biological pathways and mechanisms of love.

The psychological theory by Freud (as cited in Sternberg, 1997) is regarded as among the earliest forms of theories of love. In his theory, Freud sought to make use of an attempt by an individual to realize an ideal ego as a way of explaining love. Reik (as cited in Sternberg, 1997) came up with another theory similar to the one held by Freud.

In his theory, Reik has endeavored to explain love by way of viewing it as the search for salvation. In his 1962 theory, Maslow inferred that D-love (Deficiency love) could as well possess similar properties as those proposed by both Freud and Reik.

Further, Maslow talks of the possibility for the possibility for B-love (Being love), a higher kind of love, for those individuals who had already attained the self-actualization status in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of need table. Furthermore, individuals possessing the B-love had the potential to love others for their sake as opposed to doing it in an attempt to find a cure to their individual deficiencies.

Even as the aforementioned earlier theories of love are more inclined towards the field of clinical psychology, nevertheless, we have since had other more recent theories on the concept of love that are more inclined towards the field of personality/social psychology.

The personality/social theory postulated by Lee (1977, as cited in Hendrick & Hendrick, 1995) is still by far among the most common of the current theories of love. In his theory, Lee inferred that as opposed to being a single entity, love is, instead, a thing that calls for a sound comprehension with regard to the individuals’ styles of loving.

Further, Lee has identified such styles of loving: (a) eros, this style of loving is often manifested by a yearning and consequent search for a loved one with a physical presentation similar to the one already held in the lover’s mind; (b), ludus, often regarded as a form of game like or playful kind of love; (c), storge, which is a love style whose basis hinges upon a gradual development in terms of both affection and companionship; (d) mania, which is a love style that is often manifested by acts of jealousy, obsession, and enhanced emotional intensity, (e) agape, an altruistic form of love whereby the lover feels a dire need to love with no holdups, even when a reciprocation is not due; and (f) pragma, which is a style of practical love that entails a mindful deliberation on the demographics that identifies a loved one. Assessment of this theory appears to indicate that it gives an explanation for different forms of data (Hendrick & Hendrick).

Shaver and Hazan (1994) advocate for a stylistic form of this theory, in which the style of loving of the lover is partially influenced by the style of attachment that one established as an infant, with his or her mother. These forms of attachments, whether secure or not, avoidant, or anxious-ambivalent, tends to be somewhat exhibited in the ways that we choose to love as adults.

However, it is important to note that there are several social psychological theories that have endeavored to distance themselves from the stylistics perspective. For example, Hatfield (1988) offers a distinction between compassionate and passionate love and Davis (1985) sought to provide three elements: physical attraction, liking, and caring.

Recent literature on the impact of stress on human attachment indicates that stressors have the potential to trigger attachment behaviors.

In an attempt to define love, Cornwell (2006) regards it as “a cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of the loving feeling by the object of affection.” Nonetheless, it is not absolutely necessary that one should experience amorous feelings for love to be triggered.

As Flora (2004) has revealed, proximity, repeated sexual contact, and stress may all play a significant role in helping to bring out love feelings. These elements increase the realignment of the hitherto altered and unbalanced psychological and physiological states.

The assumption is that a certain degree of manageable stress could be essential in order to facilitate the formation of very strong bonds (Sternberg, 1997). On the other hand, should socializing even when faced with stressors fail to materialize, the introduction of decreases could become necessary. Anxiety, fear, forced isolation, and a host of other types of stress have also been linked to enhanced levels of such stress hormones as cortisol.

When this happens, the likelihood of social interactions occurring is very high. In contrast, chronic stress as manifested by hyper-intensive grief could as well result in either a breakdown or a depression of the social interactions. As a result of the association between massive and chronic stress, this could, in the long-run, hinder the formation of new attachments and bonds, resulting in physiological and social deprivation (Sternberg, 1997).

Nevertheless, physiological processes that are related to stress could, within a given homeostatic range, enhance social bonding development. Moreover, stress reducing physiological states could also be created via positive social interactions.

What this appears to suggest is that with regard to love and social bonding, the fundamental concept that we need to take into account is the issue of finding a balance of the related factors. The triangular theory identifies intimacy, passion, and commitment/decision as constituting the three categories of love. In this case, various elements of love are often manifested by each of the three individual components.

Intimacy is involved such aspects as bondendness, closeness, and connectedness in as far as loving relationships are concerned. Therefore, it talks into account feelings with the potential to bring about a warm experience in a relationship built on love. Sternberg and Grajek (1984) undertook a cluster analysis of data derived from the liking and loving scales from the study carried out by Rubin, along with the close-relationships scale as provided by the 1970 study of Levinger and colleagues.

In their assessment, Sternberg and Grajek revealed that there are 10 clusters that connected to the elements of intimacy. They include (a) the yearning for improving a loved one’s welfare; (b) a happiness experience when in the company of a loved one; (c) holding the loved one in high esteem; the ability to rely on a loved one when faced with difficulties; (e) feeling of mutual understanding; (f) an act of sharing not just the self, but also their possession with those that one loves; (g) reciprocated love; (h) provision of emotional support to a loved one; (i) communication between the two loved ones in an intimate manner; and (j) valuing of the life shared by a loved one.

Passion is regarded as more of a drive that culminates in physical attraction, romance, and sexual consummation within a relationship built on love. One of the elements of passion is what Hatfield and Walster (1981) have regarded as `a state of intense longing for union with the other’.

If the relationship is a loving one, this experience could as well be predominated by sexual needs. On the other hand, there are also other vital needs of an individual that also influence passion. These are self-esteem, affiliation, nurturance, and submission, among others.

In the short term, commitment is an indication of the love one has for their significant other. Ultimately, it symbolizes the commitment of an individual to continue loving their significant other. It is important however to note that both decision and commitment are not always complementary.

Accordingly, it is still possible to love someone only in the present time, with no commitment of doing so, in the long-run. In the same way, an individual could be committed to a relationship but still fail to admit that indeed, they are in love with their partner (Hatfield & Walster, 1981).

Human beings, along with the other mammals, are thought to have evolved through three fundamental, discrete, and interrelated systems with regard to the issue of mating, procreation, and parenting. Lust, attraction as well as attachment have been identified as the stages of love.

It is important to realize that each of these three emotional systems is linked to a definite collection of neural correlates. Moreover, the three discreet systems are also individually characterized by a definite behavioral collection. Furthermore, the evolvement of the three emotional systems means that they are responsible for a definite reproduction aspect (Fisher, 2000).

Lust is the first of the three emotional systems. It is also referred to as libido, or sex drive, and it entails a sexual gratification craving. The hormones androgen and estrogen are both primarily connected to sex drive. The principle development of the sex drive is with a view to acting as a form of motivation to individuals so that they may seek out sexual associations with any member within their species that they deem appropriate (Fisher, 2000).

In humans, the attraction system is referred to as infatuation. It is often manifest by enhanced energy and focused attention towards a specific mating partner of preference. Attraction in humans also entails intrusive thoughts regarding the object of love, feelings of exhilaration, and a yearning to realize an emotional union with a potential partner, or the object of love.

During attraction, elevated levels of the hormones dopamine, norepinephrine and catecholamine are released in the brain. On the other hand, attraction triggers the reductions in serotonin and indoleamine levels. The evolvement of this emotional system was primarily for purposes of enhancing the choice of a mate, conserving energy expended during mating, allowing individuals to identify potential partners with whom they can mate, and also to emphasize more on individuals who are genetically superior (Carter, 1998).

The hormones that are primarily associated with the attachment system include oxytocin, neoropeptides, and vasopressin (Carter, 1998). Among humans, attachment is often manifested by various characteristics. These include social comfort, emotional union, as well as calm.

The evolvement of this particular emotional system was with a view to motivating individuals so that they may either sustain their shared affiliative unions, or partake in positive social behaviors for a time long enough to enable them complete parental duties that are specific to their species (Carter, 1998).

There are quite a number of hormones associated with love. For example, Phenylethylamine (PEA) is usually associated with the excitement felt by individuals when they are experiencing “new love”. Consequently, an individual is likely to experience hyperventilation, euphoria, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, and sweaty palms (Baxter, 2007). Traces of PEA have been found in chocolate (Sectzer, 2001) and upon its consumption, there is the tendency for the body to react in a similar manner as during the time of falling in love.

Oxytocin is a love hormone allows individuals to bond with those to whom they have love feelings for, in addition to experiencing affection and warm feelings (Baxter, 2007). Once the oxytocin hormone has been released, it brings about complex effects that have been associated with both mother-infant and sexual bonding.

Increased levels of serotonin trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin. The release of this neurotransmitter takes place if an individual is touched, such as a pat, or hug (Baxter, 1997). During the cuddling or lactation process, the release of oxytocin takes place in the mother’s and child’s brains (Churhland, 2006). Moreover, the release of oxytocin could as well be triggered by such small acts as the presence of a loved one, or a dose of ecstasy.

Consequently, we experience a dire need to also touch our beloved following the release of oxytocin, in effecting establishing a cycle (Baxter, 2007). Furthermore, oxytocin leads to enhance passion for romance (Bell et al, 2006). Cornwell (2006) contends that there is the likelihood of the oxytocin levels of a man increasing five-fold during orgasm, with that of women being even higher. Separately, Anderson and Middleton (2006) have revealed that oxytocin could also contribute to enhanced trust, a necessary ingredient in a close relationship.

The high prolactin and oxytocin levels contained in milk are thought to be responsible for the strong bonding and attachment experienced between mother and child. Central dopamine plays a crucial role in the formation, maintenance and expression of pair bonding (Curtis et al., 2006). The role of vasopressin in monogamy has been explored by Lucentini (2005), who is of the opinion that the connection of vasopressin pathway with dopamine circuits leads to long-term partner preference.

Previously, the issue of love has mainly been a preserve of poets and playwrights. However, an increasingly higher number of researchers have endeavored to assess what constitutes the element of love. Commitment, passion, intimacy, attachment, jealousy, and grief following separation constitutes several of the numerous terms used in depicting the symbols of love (Tobias & Stefano, 2005).

In contrast, science regards love as more of a multi-dimensional and hypothetical construct with a multitude of versions and implications involved. Up to now, we have only had a limited number of researchers who have endeavored to examine the issue of love along with its associated emotional behaviors and states through the application of scientific means. As Young (2009) has noted, in order to better understand love, there is the need to examine its individual elements.

Currently, researchers are involved in the identification and isolation of the genetic and neural components of love. Whereas the earlier theories of love (for example, Freud, Reik, and Maslow) emphasized more on the field of clinical psychology, on the other hand, the current theories of love have endeavored to focus more on the field of social/personality psychology. Proximity, repeated sexual contact and stress are all associated with triggering feelings of love.

The triangular theory identifies intimacy, passion, and commitment/decision as constituting the three categories of love. In this case, various elements of love are often manifested by each of the three individual components.

Human beings, along with the other mammals, are thought to have evolved through three fundamental, discrete, and interrelated systems with regard to the issue of mating, procreation, and parenting; lust, attraction, and attachment. The stages of love include lust, attraction as well as attachment. In lust, an individual often exhibits a craving to obtain sexual gratification. In humans, the attraction system is referred to as infatuation.

It is often manifest by enhanced energy and focused attention towards a specific mating partner of preference. In humans, there are a number of hormones that have been linked with the attachment system. Some of these include neoropeptides, vasopressin, and oxytocin. The evolvement of this particular emotional system was with a view to motivating individuals so that they may either sustain their shared affiliative unions.

ome of the well documented neurotransmitters that have been linked to love include PEA, oxytocin, dopamine, prolactin, and vasopressin, among others. For a long time now, love has remained a mysterious subject to many. However, at the moment, an increasingly larger number of scientists have been seen to engage in numerous research studies in an attempt to discover the science behind the issue of falling in love.

Reference List

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Bell, C. J., Nicholson, H., Mulder, R. T., Luty, S. E., & Joyce, P. R. (2006). Plasma oxytocin levels in depression and their correlation with the temperament dimension of reward dependence. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 20.5: 656-670.

Carter, C.S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23: 779-818

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Hiller, J. (2004). Speculations On The Links Between Feelings, Emotions And Sexual Behaviour: Are Vasopressin And Oxytocin Involved? Psychological Services In Sexual Health, Redbridge Psychological Services, Uk. Sexual And Relationship Therapy, 19(4): 1-21.

Lucentini, J. (2005). Love is like an addiction: looking for correlates in human and animal attraction. The Scientist, 19.3: 20-21.

Sectzer, J.R. (2001). Support for chocolate’s health benefits builds. (Candy R&D: trends & applications in ingredient technology). Candy Industry, 166.10:42-45.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Construct validation of a triangular love scale. European Journal of Social Psychology, 27(313): 1-24

Tobias, E., & Stefano, G. B. (2005). The Neurobiology of Love. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 3(26)

Young, L. J. (2009). Love: Neuroscience reveals all. Nature, 457(8): 1-3.

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