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Part of a series on Love
Courtly love
Religious love
Grades of Emotion
Brotherly love
Sisterly love
Erotic love
Platonic love
Familial love
Puppy love
Romantic love
See Also
Unrequited love

Love is any of a number of emotions and experiences related to a sense of strong affection[1] and attachment. The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure ("I loved that meal") to intense interpersonal attraction ("I love my boyfriend"). This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes the concept of love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

As an abstract concept, love usually refers to a deep, ineffable feeling of tenderly caring for another person. Even this limited conception of love, however, encompasses a wealth of different feelings, from the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love to the nonsexual emotional closeness of familial and platonic love[2] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love.[3] Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.


Columpio Veracruz 059

Museum of Anthropology in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.

The English word "love" can have a variety of related but distinct meanings in different contexts. Often, other languages use multiple words to express some of the different concepts that English relies mainly on "love" to encapsulate; one example is the plurality of Greek words for "love." Cultural differences in conceptualizing love thus make it doubly difficult to establish any universal definition.[4]

Although the nature or essence of love is a subject of frequent debate, different aspects of the word can be clarified by determining what isn't love. As a general expression of positive sentiment (a stronger form of like), love is commonly contrasted with hate (or neutral apathy); as a less sexual and more emotionally intimate form of romantic attachment, love is commonly contrasted with lust; and as an interpersonal relationship with romantic overtones, love is commonly contrasted with friendship, although other definitions of the word love may be applied to close friendships in certain contexts.

When discussed in the abstract, love usually refers to interpersonal love, an experience felt by a person for another person. Love often involves caring for or identifying with a person or thing, including oneself (cf. narcissism).

In addition to cross-cultural differences in understanding love, ideas about love have also changed greatly over time. Some historians date modern conceptions of romantic love to courtly Europe during or after the Middle Ages, although the prior existence of romantic attachments is attested by ancient love poetry.[5]

Impersonal love[]

A person can be said to love a country, principle, or goal if they value it greatly and are deeply committed to it. Similarly, compassionate outreach and volunteer workers' "love" of their cause may sometimes be borne not of interpersonal love, but impersonal love coupled with altruism and strong political convictions. People can also "love" material objects, animals, or activities if they invest themselves in bonding or otherwise identifying with those things. If sexual passion is also involved, this condition is called paraphilia.[6]

Interpersonal love[]


Archetypal lovers Romeo and Juliet portrayed by Frank Bernard Dicksee.

Interpersonal love refers to love between human beings. It is a more potent sentiment than a simple liking for another. Unrequited love refers to those feelings of love that are not reciprocated. Interpersonal love is most closely associated with interpersonal relationships. Such love might exist between family members, friends, and couples. There are also a number of psychological disorders related to love, such as erotomania.

Throughout history, philosophy and religion have done the most speculation on the phenomenon of love. In the last century, the science of psychology has written a great deal on the subject. In recent years, the sciences of evolutionary psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience, and biology have added to the understanding of the nature and function of love.

Chemical basis[]

Chemical basis of love

Simplified overview of the chemical basis of love.

Main article: Love (biological basis)

Biological models of sex tend to view love as a mammalian drive, much like hunger or thirst.[7] Helen Fisher, a leading expert in the topic of love, divides the experience of love into three partly overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust exposes people to others; romantic attraction encourages people to focus their energy on mating; and attachment involves tolerating the spouse (or indeed the child) long enough to rear a child into infancy.

Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms. Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain consistently releases a certain set of chemicals, including pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which act in a manner similar to amphetamines, stimulating the brain's pleasure center and leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.[8]

Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding that promotes relationships lasting for many years and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests. It has been linked to higher levels of the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin to a greater degree than short-term relationships have.[8]

The protein molecule known as the nerve growth factor (NGF) has high levels when people first fall in love, but these return to previous levels after one year. [9]

Psychological basis[]

Further information: Human bonding
Sri Lankan woman and child

Grandmother and grandchild,
Sri Lanka

Psychology depicts love as a cognitive and social phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and various 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. The last and most common form of love is sexual attraction and passion. Passionate love is shown in infatuation as well as romantic love. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components. American psychologist Zick Rubin seeks to define love by psychometrics. His work states that three factors constitute love: attachment, caring, and intimacy.[10] [11]

Following developments in electrical theories such as Coulomb's law, which showed that positive and negative charges attract, analogs in human life were developed, such as "opposites attract." Over the last century, research on the nature of human mating has generally found this not to be true when it comes to character and personality—people tend to like people similar to themselves. However, in a few unusual and specific domains, such as immune systems, it seems that humans prefer others who are unlike themselves (e.g., with an orthogonal immune system), since this will lead to a baby that has the best of both worlds.[12] In recent years, various human bonding theories have been developed, described in terms of attachments, ties, bonds, and affinities.

Some Western authorities disaggregate into two main components, the altruistic and the narcissistic. This view is represented in the works of Scott Peck, whose work in the field of applied psychology explored the definitions of love and evil. Peck maintains that love is a combination of the "concern for the spiritual growth of another," and simple narcissism.[13] In combination, love is an activity, not simply a feeling.

Psychological approaches[]

Platonic love[]

Main article: platonic love

In the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato [428-347BC], disciple of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, positioned the view that one would never love a person in that person’s totality, because no person represents goodness or beauty in totality. At a certain level, one does not even love the person at all. Rather, one loves an abstraction or image of the person’s best qualities. Plato never considered that one would love a person for his or her unique qualities, because the ideas are abstractions that do not vary. In love, we thus look for the best embodiment of a universal truth in a person rather than that of an idiosyncratic truth.[1]

The hunt for love[]

At the turn of the first millennium, the Roman writer Ovid [43BC – 17AD], whose narrative poems recount legends of miraculous transformation of forms from the time of creation, published a number of works on love including the Amores (the Loves), his first work, followed by Ars amatoria (the Art of Love) and Remedia amoris (Remedies for Love). Each, in theme, reflected a brilliant, sophisticated, pleasure-seeking society in which love is a transformative process driven by amorous intrigue. In the Art of Love, Ovid argues that "love" is a hunt: the lover and beloved are “shy predator and wily prey” and the nature of their love is “conquest”.


Main article: crystallization (love)

In the 1822 classic On Love French writer Stendhal describes or compares the “birth of love”, in which the love object is crystallized in the mind, as being a process similar or analogous to a trip to Rome. In the analogy, the city of Bologna represents indifference and Rome represents perfect love:


Stendhal's depiction of "crystallization" in the process of falling in love

When we are in Bologna, we are entirely indifferent; we are not concerned to admire in any particular way the person with whom we shall perhaps one day be madly in love with; even less is our imagination inclined to overrate their worth. In a word, in Bologna “crystallization” has not yet begun. When the journey begins, love departs. One leaves Bologna, climbs the Apennines, and takes the road to Rome. The departure, according to Stendhal, has nothing to do with one’s will; it is an instinctive moment. This transformative process actuates in terms of four steps along a journey:

  1. Admiration – one marvels at the qualities of the loved one.
  2. Acknowledgement – one notices the return affection of the charming person.
  3. Hope – one envisions gaining the love of the loved one.
  4. Delight – one exults in overrating the beauty and merit of the person he or she loves.

First, one admires the other person. Second, one acknowledges the pleasantness in having acquired the interest of a charming person. Third, hope emerges. In the fourth stage, one delights in overrating the beauty and the merit of the person whose love one hopes to win. This journey or crystallization process (shown above) was detailed by Stendhal on the back of a playing card, while speaking to Madame Gherardi, during his trip to Salzburg salt mine.

Formulaic models[]

Throughout history, various researchers from time to time have come forward with hypothetical formulas of love. One famous formula, from the early 20th century, was provided by the pioneer sexologist Havelock Ellis who postulated the following mathematical equality:

Love = Sex + Friendship

Although many do not find perfect agreement with this formula, it is one of the most referenced.[2][3]


Main article: limerence

Limerence is a term, coined in 1977 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, which characterizes a "state of love" personified by a blending of passion, intrusive thinking, longing, uncertainty, and hope. The concept of limerence stems from Tennov’s research, beginning in the mid 60s, in which she interviewed, questioned, and surveyed over 500 people on the topic of romantic love. In doing so, she set out to understand and to quantify that variety of “passionate love” as described in Stendhal’s 1822 classic On Love wherein the concept of crystallization was developed.


Main article: lovemap

In 1980, abnormal sexology researcher John Money developed the concept of lovemaps, defined as a set of love attachment predispositions, i.e. neurological love templates, developed or acquired through association in early youth. Lovemaps help to explain why people like what they like sexuoerotically, such as necrophilia, coprophilia, or masochism, etc. According to Money, a lovemap is "a developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexuoerotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover." Although the concept of "lovemaps" originally focused on atypical love, it has since been referenced in discussions on typical love.

Triangular theory of love[]

Sternburg's Love Triangle
Main article: triangular theory of love

In 1986 psychologist Robert Sternberg published his famous triangular theory of love in Psychological Review, which postulated a geometric interpretation of love. According to the triangular theory, love has three components:[4]

  1. Intimacy – which encompasses the feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness.
  2. Passion – which encompasses the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation.
  3. Decision/Commitment – which encompasses, in the short term, the decision that one loves another, and in the long term, the commitment to maintain that love.

The “amount” of love one experiences depends on the absolute strength of these three components; the “kind” of love one experiences depends on their strengths relative to each other. The three components, pictorially labeled on the vertices of a triangle, interact with each other and with the actions they produce and with the actions that produce them so as to form seven different kinds of love experiences:

  intimacy passion commitment
Liking or friendship
Infatuation or limerence  
Empty love    
Romantic love
Companionate love
Fatuous love  
Consummate love

The size of the triangle functions to represent the amount of love - the bigger the triangle the greater the love. The shape of the triangle functions to represent the kind of love, which typically varies over the course of the relationship: passion-stage (right-shifted triangle), intimacy-stage (apex-triangle), commitment-stage (left-shifted triangle), typically. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the “perfect couple”. Typically, couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they can not imagine themselves happy over the long term with anyone else, they weather their few storms gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with each other.[5]

Love styles[]

Susan Hendrick and Clyde Hendrick developed a Loves Attitude Scale based on John Alan Lee's theory called Love styles. Lee identified six basic theories that people use in their interpersonal relationships:

  1. Eros (romantic love) — a passionate physical love based on physical appearance and beauty.
  2. Ludus (game playing)— love is played as a game; love is playful; often involves little or no commitment and thrives on "conquests".
  3. Storge (companionate love) — an affectionate love that slowly develops, based on similarity and friendship.
  4. Pragma (pragmatic love) — inclination to select a partner based on practical and rational criteria where both will benefit from the partnership.
  5. Mania (possessive love) — highly emotional love; unstable; the stereotype of romantic love; its characteristics include jealousy and conflict.
  6. Agapē (altruistic love) — selfless altruistic love; spiritual

The Hendricks found men tend to be more ludic and manic, whereas women tend to be storgic and pragmatic. Relationships based on similar love styles were found to last longer.


In 1992, anthropologist Helen Fisher, in her ground-breaking book the Anatomy of Love, postulated three main phases of love:

  1. lust - an intense longing.
  2. attraction - an action that tends to draw people together.
  3. attachment - a bonding progression.

Generally love will start off in the lust phase, strong in passion but weak in the other elements. The primary motivator at this stage is the basic sexual instinct. Appearance, smells, and other similar factors play a decisive role in screening potential mates. However, as time passes, the other elements may grow and passion may shrink — this depends upon the individual. So what starts as infatuation or empty love may well develop into one of the fuller types of love. At the attraction stage the person concentrates their affection on a single mate and fidelity becomes important.

Likewise, when a person has known a loved one for a long time, they develop a deeper attachment to their partner. According to current scientific understanding of love, this transition from the attraction to the attachment phase usually happens in about 30 months. After that time, the passion fades, changing love from consummate to companionate, or from romantic love to liking.

Similarly, according to psychologist many see love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love. Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate). Companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.

Comparison of scientific models[]

Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, similar to hunger or thirst.[7] Psychology sees love as more of a social and cultural phenomenon. There are probably elements of truth in both views. Certainly love is influenced by hormones (such as oxytocin), neurotrophins (such as NGF), and pheromones, and how people think and behave in love is influenced by their conceptions of love. The conventional view in biology is that there are two major drives in love: sexual attraction and attachment. Attachment between adults is presumed to work on the same principles that lead an infant to become attached to its mother. The traditional psychological view sees love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love. Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate); companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.

Studies have shown that brain scans of those infatuated by love display a resemblance to those with a mental illness. Love creates activity in the same area of the brain where hunger, thirst, and drug cravings create activity. New love, therefore, could possibly be more physical than emotional. Over time, this reaction to love mellows, and different areas of the brain are activated, primarily ones involving long-term commitments. Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, suggests that this reaction to love is so similar to that of drugs because without love, humanity would die out.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Philosophical views[]

People, throughout history, have often considered phenomena such as "love at first sight" or "instant friendships" to be the result of an uncontrollable force of attraction or affinity.[14] One of the first to theorize in this direction was the Greek philosopher Empedocles, who in the 4th century BC argued for the existence of two forces, love (philia) and strife (neikos), which were used to account for the causes of motion in the universe. These two forces were said to intermingle with the classical elements, i.e., earth, water, air, and fire, in such a manner that love served as the binding power linking the various parts of existence harmoniously together.

Later, Plato interpreted Empedocles' two agents as attraction and repulsion, stating that their operation is conceived in an alternate sequence.[15] From these arguments, Plato originated the concept of "likes attract", e.g., earth is attracted to earth, water to water, and fire to fire. In modern terms this is often phrased in terms of "birds of a feather flock together".

Bertrand Russell describes love as a condition of "absolute value", as opposed to relative value. Thomas Jay Oord defines love as acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being. Oord means for his definition to be adequate for religion, philosophy, and the sciences. Robert Anson Heinlein, one of the most prolific science fiction writers of the 20th century, defined love in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land as the point of emotional connection which leads to the happiness of another being essential to one's own well being. This definition ignores the ideas of religion and science and instead focuses on the meaning of love as it relates to the individual.

Religious views[]

Main article: Love (religious views)

Love in early religions was a mixture of ecstatic devotion and ritualised obligation to idealised natural forces (pagan polytheism).[How to reference and link to summary or text] Later religions shifted emphasis towards single abstractly-oriented objects like God, law, church and state (formalised monotheism). A third view, pantheism, recognises a state or truth distinct from (and often antagonistic to) the idea that there is a difference between the worshiping subject and the worshiped object. Love is reality, of which we, moving through time, imperfectly interpret ourselves as an isolated part.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The Bible speaks of love as a set of attitudes and actions that are far broader than the concept of love as an emotional attachment. Love is seen as a set of behaviours that humankind is encouraged to act out. One is encouraged not just to love one's partner, or even one's friends but also to love one's enemies. The Bible describes this type of active love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Romantic love is also present in the Bible, particularly the Song of Songs. Traditionally, this book has been interpreted allegorically as a picture of God's love for Israel and the Church. When taken naturally, we see a picture of ideal human marriage:[16]

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealously unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.

The passage dodi li v'ani lo, i.e. "my beloved is mine and I am my beloved", from Song of Songs 2:16, is an example of a biblical quote commonly engraved on wedding bands.

Also, the Bible defines love as being God himself. I John 4:8 states "God is Love". In essence, God is the epitomy of love - in action and relation.[How to reference and link to summary or text] It is God that first loved mankind and desired a relationship. (John 3:16-17) Love is the underlying drive in most people.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The search for love seems endless within the human race, throughout the ages.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The Bible defines God as being the completeness of love. Love, as being defined by him, is demonstrated in his character and personality. Another way of defining this type of love is "godly love", a love shown through the example of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. However, this "sacrificial" love can also be expressed by humans.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For example, the love of a mother for her child. It is one one of the strongest bonds of love known to Man.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The mother would sacrifice anything for the child. It is this type of love that the Bible teaches us to follow and to share with one another. Love, in the end, is truly a sacrifice.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, defines Love as one of 7 synonyms for God. This indicates that Diety is more than a being that has benevolent concerns for mankind, but rather that God is Love itself. Love is also synonymous with Principle, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Life, and Truth and indicate the depth and wholeness of Love.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The Bhagavad Gita, India's ageless Hindu scripture, helps devotees to see that love conquers all. It says, "Sattva—pure, luminous, and free from sorrow—binds us to happiness and wisdom" (Number 6). Sattva, translated as purity, helps one to see that love evolves from selflessness.

Cultural views[]

Main article: Love (cultural views)

The traditional Chinese character for love (愛) consists of a heart (心, in the middle) inside of "accept", "feel", or "perceive", which shows a graceful emotion.

Although there exist numerous cross-cultural unified similarities as to the nature and definition of love, as in there being a thread of commitment, tenderness, and passion common to all human existence, there are differences. This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it.

See also[]


  1. Oxford Illustrated American Dictionary (1998) + Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000)
  2. Kristeller, Paul Oskar (1980). Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays, Princeton University.
  3. Mascaró, Juan (2003). The Bhagavad Gita, Penguin Classics. (J. Mascaró, translator)
  4. Kay, Paul (March 1984). What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?. American Anthropologist 86 (1): pp. 65–79.
  5. Ancient Love Poetry.
  6. DiscoveryHealth Paraphilia. URL accessed on 2007-12-16.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lewis, Thomas; Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2000). A General Theory of Love, Random House.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Winston, Robert (2004). Human, Smithsonian Institution.
  9. Emanuele, E. (2005). Raised plasma nerve growth factor levels associated with early-stage romantic love. Psychoneuroendocrinology Sept. 05.
  10. Rubin, Zick (1970). Measurement of Romantic Love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16: 265–27.
  11. Rubin, Zick (1973). Liking and Loving: an invitation to social psychology, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  12. Berscheid, Ellen; Walster, Elaine, H. (1969). Interpersonal Attraction, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. CCCN 69-17443.
  13. Peck, Scott (1978). The Road Less Traveled, Simon & Schuster.
  14. Fisher, Helen (2004). Why We Love – the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6913-5.
  15. Jammer, Max (1956). Concepts of Force, Dover Publications, Inc.. ISBN 0-486-40689-X.
  16. Bible, 8:6-7, NIV.


  • Roger Allen, Hillar Kilpatrick, and Ed de Moor, eds. Love and Sexuality in Modern Arabic Literature. London: Saqi Books, 1995.
  • Shadi Bartsch and Thomas Bartscherer, eds. Erotikon: Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. 2006
  • Ehrenberg, D. B. (2001). In the grip of passion: Love or addiction? On a specific kind of masochistic enthrallment. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson.
  • Helen Fisher. Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
  • Gabriele Froböse, Rolf Froböse, Michael Gross (Translator): Lust and Love: Is it more than Chemistry? Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry, ISBN 0-85404-867-7, (2006).
  • Johnson, P (2005) 'Love, Heterosexuality and Society'. Routledge: London.
  • Thomas Jay Oord, Science of Love: The Wisdom of Well-Being. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004.
  • R. J. Sternberg. A triangular theory of love. 1986. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135
  • R. J. Sternberg. Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories. 1987. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 331–345
  • Sternberg, Robert (1998). Cupid's Arrow - the Course of Love through Time, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47893-6.
  • Dorothy Tennov. Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day, 1979. ISBN 0-8128-6134-5
  • Dorothy Tennov. A Scientist Looks at Romantic Love and Calls It "Limerence": The Collected Works of Dorothy Tennov. Greenwich, CT: The Great American Publishing Society (GRAMPS), [6]
  • Wood, Wood and Boyd. The World of Psychology. 5th edition. 2005. Pearson Education, 402–403
  • Jones, Del. "One of USA's Exports: Love, American Style" USA Today: February, 14, 2006.

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