Love is defined in psychology as a social phenomenon and is one of the foremost preoccupations of humankind. Not only is it the single most prevalent focus of literature, drama, poetry, song and the popular media but most of the world's religions place a high value on the experience and expression of love.
Over the centuries, many philosophers have argued that love is the most powerful force in the universe. Without love, it can be argued, people can be lonely, disconnected, sad or angry. With love, people feel happiness and security. Most psychologists believe that love is a combination of intimacy, commitment and passion. This is true of all kinds of love, whether it is parental love, friends' affection and loyalty, lovers' romance and attraction or warm feelings for a pet.
Renowned psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated what he called a triangular theory and argued love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Sternberg explained: "Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and details of their personal lives and is usually shown in friendships and romantic love affairs. Commitment, on the other hand, is the expectation that the relationship is permanent."
In their research, psychologists have established that love and sex are somewhat inseparable issues for women. However, studies have revealed that for men these are two distinct entities. Psychologists in this field believe this supports the argument that the heart should not be worried about what the body is up to.
The emotion of love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure such as ‘I loved that meal' to the intense interpersonal attraction including ‘I love my partner.' Love can also refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of Eros the Greek god, to the emotional closeness of familial love, the platonic love that defines friendship or to the profound ‘oneness' or devotion of religious love.
Modern neuroscience has offered a definitive account of what love is, with scientists discovering that there are certain chemicals present in the brain when people fall in love. The found that testosterone is important for both male and female sexual behavior. Meanwhile, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin are more commonly found during the attraction phase of a relationship, while oxytocin and vasopressin seem to be more closely linked to long-term bonding and relationships that are characterized by strong attachments.
During an in-depth six-year study into this topic, scientist Helen Fisher and her colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to record the brain activity of people who had recently fallen in love. The scan results revealed certain areas of the brain are infused with increased blood flow for people in this state. Using this data, Fisher concludes romantic love is "deeply embedded in the architecture and chemistry of the human brain." She believes this passion is a primordial human drive as fundamental as hunger for food.
Fisher also used her studies, which she showcased in her book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love to explain the causes of divorce, our understanding of stalking behavior and crimes of passion. Leading psychiatrist and spiritual guru M. Scott Peck, in his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled, originally published in 1978, supported this scientific explanation. This influential work is the second best selling non-fiction book of all time after The Bible.
Peck claims the concept of romantic love is actually a myth. He argues that even the notion of falling in love is a ‘sad sham,' which he believes has everything to do with getting each other into bed and almost nothing to do with real love. He states that confusing sexual impulses with love will always lead to a life of misery. Peck believes that you may get the object of your desire to the altar but you will discover, too late, that what you both believed to be love was nothing more than an illusion. He warns: "The first is that the experience of falling in love is specifically a sex-linked erotic experience. We fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated."