being well
being well Area home page

  “love” in empirical research

gary e. davis
October 21, 2022
    getting empirical about “love”
      Two empirical approaches to understanding ordinary “love” appeal to me as the best psychometric approaches (though corroborative psychometrics isn’t very insightful). Formally data-oriented inquiry shows how prototyping ordinary love can be validly done. I’m not very interested in empirical probing of love, but the research is useful for corroborating my conceptual approach in earlier discussions, which I’ll indicate below.

And the most appealing empirical approach (my preferred approach among other empirical approaches I won’t discuss) is best, in my view, for understanding non-psychological empirical research (anthropological and socio-cultural models), which
I’ll briefly discuss in the last section here.

love of individuation
      Two researchers (Aron and Tomlinson; hereafter A&T) pursue a “self-expansion model” of love (The New Psychology of Love, 2019, ch. 1). “The model has two key principles” (p. 2): a “motivational principle” and an “inclusion-of-other-in-the-self principle.” In other words, persons may love to individuate interdependently, i.e., love of differentiated individuation is—? can be—integral to love itself.

Love of individuation originates from newborn, intrinsic fascination (becoming curiosity) within good attachmentality, which individuates into toddler desire for autonomy (“separation / individuation,” ¶8 here). By the time that individuation might understand itself overtly as love of self enhanciveness, lived time has individuated the appeal into a sense of deeply backgrounded Self as appeals of complex phenomena (others, scenes, things, etc.) of one’s complex world, reflecting one’s degree of independence (S/s-differentiable feeling) with complementary interdependence (s/p-differentiable identity). Healthy selfidentical feeling loves enhanciveness of oneSelf (or higher individuation) in its world.

But A&T have a constrained conception of this, reducing the appeal of life-oriental ValueV to goal-attainment capability: “People seek to expand their potential efficacy, to increase their ability to accomplish goals” (2), though they acknowledge a holistic appeal of individuation—but as increased self-efficacy: “That is [my emph.], a fundamental human motive is what other scholars [I would emphasize] have described as exploration, effectance, self-improvement, curiosity, competence, or a broadening of one’s perspect-
ive” (ibid.). But goal orientation is easy to quantify for empirical modeling, while more-humanistic values are too variable in meaning? (Not for dedicated “positive” psycholog-
ists!) A&T are reductionistic; they don’t give further attention to “what other scholars have described.”

A&T’s interdependent principle is equally constrained: “One way people seek to expand the self is through close relationships”—duh—“because in a close relationship the other’s resources, perspectives, and identities are experienced, to some extent, as one’s own” (ibid.). And to great extent not as one’s own; rather, relationships are parts (aspects, modes) of oneSelf which are enhanced, too, not primarily as “resources,” etc. for oneself.

In other words, excellent enhanciveness of oneSelf is a differentiated engagement of building-and-broadening independence with building-and-broadening interdependence, not primarily an employment of interdependence for independence.

As A&T’s chapter details its research, it’s clearly about a conception of romantic love. But authentically romantic love doesn’t tend to be egoistic.

My point is that self-enhancive interest is integral to authentic love—of oneSelf with others, yet truly of oneSelf, too, a mutuality of independence and interdependence which is a valid topic for empirical research.

love as a way of life: cohering passion, intimacy, and commitment
      A more-balanced sense of authentic love is addressed by Robert J. Sternberg’s “Duplex Theory of Love” (The New Psychology of Love, 2006, ch. 9). Sternberg is the leading researcher on love, as well as the editor of both anthologies cited here; his placing of A&T’s research as chapter 1 of his 2019 edition is another reason for giving it attention.

What’s “duplex” about Sternberg et al.’s well-evidenced model is that it has [a] synchronic (componential) and [b] diachronic (life-historical) aspects, which he calls [a] “the triarchic conception” and [b] the sense of “love as a story.”

The triarchic model is about the variable degrees of passion, intimacy, and commitment in various kinds of “love.” The three modes don’t make a well-formed triad because each is understood so variably by persons and mix so variably in actual loves. But there’s good reason to understand love 3-foldly: It’s isomorphic with Sternberg’s leading conception of intelligent action (see “minding is intelligent”), though detailing how that isomorphism might best be understood is beyond the scope of my present topic. But his model (strongly evidenced through decades of empirical research) provides a good sense of authentic love across modes of oneSelf.

living passionately (ardently caring)
      Generally—and relative to my model of 3-fold differentiability of oneSelf (S/s/p differentiability)—Sternberg’s sense of passionate love is usefully associable with S/s differentiability.

We easily distinguish primal feeling (need) and “higher” feeling (desire) in the back-
ground “want of  oneSelf. This is a differentiability within deep background Self (as such) which capable, well-oriented selfidentity navigates relative to overt purposes, understandings, etc. The better that S/s differentiation is part of selfidentity, the better that want (passionateness) serves authentic love.

Passion is a mysterious, numinous phenomenon, needless to say. (Martha Nussbaum used over 700 pages to cover the topic, Upheavals of Thought, 2001, turning to literary history throughout the second half, after extended consideration of some psycho-anthropological research.) Sternberg notes that passion can be referred to as “a state of intense longing for union with the other” (185). In my idiom, that would be very much about Self-to-Self melding, which A&T detail as “including each other in each other’s self” (pp. 5-6). “In a loving relationship,” Sternberg continues, “sexual needs may well predominate in this experience [of passion]. However, other needs [and as desires!!]— such as those for self-esteem, succor, nurturance, affiliation, dominance, submission, and self-actualization—may also contribute to the experiencing of passion.”

Indeed. And the fact that wants of oneSelf are often ambiguous (desire? need?) is a reason why S/s differentiabilty can be important for fair interpersonal relations. Echoes of early attachmentality (or lack of that), belonging (or not), aspiration for one’s wholly flourishing life, etc. may be unwittingly mirrored by the other. “The” world altogether may be mirroring oneSelf in Its appeal. Being “in love” can be a newfound love of all the world, as if life Itself—the whole “lifeworld” of oneSelf, all of SelfWorldliness—mirrors one’s love.

By the way, any appellant phenomenon may mirror intense background givenness (cf. Heidegger’s “thrownness” in Being and Time). Depth of Self (to whatever degree one’s individuation is) shows as the degree (“depth”) of a given phenomenon’s (person’s, thing’s) covert significance (importance, value) apart from deliberate estimation of their/its importance (typically relative to given interest of one’s action). Others “have” importance/value beyond what is overtly granted because they/it reflect(s) Selfness, i.e., feeling oneSelf evidenced there apart from one’s proximal sense of the present other or something overtly important.

living intimately (caring ardently)

Generally, Sternberg’s sense of intimacy is usefully associable with S/s/p-differential cohering: fully appreciating the loved one in wholly belonging together.

But Sternberg is more modest about it (focused on ordinary love): “Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in loving relationships” (185).

Extensive empirical research “identified ten clusters [or discretely salient themes] in intimacy” (which you are so eager to see listed, so let us count the ways):

  • desire to promote the welfare of the loved one
  • experienced happiness with the loved one
  • high regard for the loved one
  • being able to count on the loved one in times of need
  • mutual understanding with the loved one
  • sharing of one’s self and one’s possessions with the loved one
  • receipt of emotional support from the loved one
  • giving of emotional support to the loved one
  • intimate communication with the loved one
  • valuing of the loved one

Isn’t science terrific? I believe that the intended practical audience (other than other researchers) is psychotherapists interested in better understanding baseline mental health for couples.

That’s a long way from Nussbaum’s high way of being, prospected as Upheavals of Thought. (Think of Whitman and Joyce—which she does—and great modern poets. Think of textual intimacy). But there’s continuity between baseline and high ways which can be elaborated better by having a good, holistic sense of baseline. Good peaks are not without reliable slopes which bridge lowlands appreciably.

living committedly (caring reliably)
      Generally, Sternberg’s sense of commitment is usefully associable with s/p differentiated, [inter]personal fidelity or/and trustworthiness.

“Decision/commitment,” writes Sternberg, “refers, in the short term, to the decision that one loves a certain other, and in the long term, to one’s commitment to maintain that love” (ibid.). Short-term decision may lack long-tern commitment, and conversely. Commitment is necessary for fidelity to, and reliability for, the other. (Commitment is also vital for neighborhood, community, and all levels of good governance.)

kinds of love
      Varying degrees of each mode of Sternberg’s model—and varying degrees of one mode’s effect on another mode—are associable with eight different “kinds” of relationships, named heuristically as “limiting cases” (186), relative to whether or not one, two, or all three modes (passion, intimacy, commitment) are salient. (Absence of all three is a ninth kind of love-relative relationship: loveless.) For example, “infatuated love” is associated with passion and commitment, but no intimacy. “Romantic love” is intimacy and passion with no commitment. “Companionate love”: intimacy and commitment with no passion. “Consummate love”: all three modes. (All nine are listed as Table 9.1, p. 187.)

being in time as way of loving
      Sternberg’s research group did “analyses” of “literature, film, and people’s oral descrip-
tions of relationships” to identify love “stories we have found to be particularly useful in conceptualizing people’s notions of love” (191). They derived 26 “genres” of narrative, most not apparently about “love,” but which encompass (with no claim to comprehens-
iveness) most narrational understandings of “love” in adult relationships (192). The aim is to importantly exemplify the life-centered scale of time in lasting loves.

I’ve grouped all 26 into seven recognizable Kinds (meta-genres) of relationship (indicated in the next paragraph), which I’ll discuss later in terms of Sternberg et al.’s genres. The point is that the array fits credibly into a simpler conception of “love as a story.”

Three of my Sternberg-synoptic Kinds express ordinary love lives where lover independence is relative to interdependence of the couple: deep friendship, romantic love, and familial love. Three other Kinds express unusual love lives where interdepen-
dence is relative to mutual independence: creative (artistic), Intimate (i.e., highly singular intimacy, such as in canonical literary art), and protean (very complex, academic, or dramatic, such as in highly reputational or exemplary public lives of couples). The seventh is clinical: some deformation or maladaptation of another Kind.

That meta-grouping isn’t very interesting as merely indicated here: loves as ordinary or unusual. But two features are important: (1) All 26 of Sternberg’s genres (his “kinds”) of love stories can be usefully understood as merely standard or special Kinds (meta-
“kinds”) of recognizable relationship. (2) All Kinds are about interdependence (s/p differentiable identities) and independence (S/s differentiable feelings) relative to each other—or failure of that.

love as anthropological, socio-cultural, or conceptual phenomenon
      Thinking about love is as old as writing (surely as old, somehow, as Homo sapiens has been Self reflective in self-reflection, i.e., gaining autonomous understanding of inter-
dependence); and is integral to folklore, art, and clinical psychology. Yet, it became a respectable area of empirical research only in recent decades, thanks largely to Stern-
berg (1988, 2006, and 2019). The now-vast amount of empirical research is superbly covered in Sternberg’s anthologies of his and others’ research (much of which corro-
borates his leading work). It is divided—or divides itself—into three realms: bioanthrop-
ological, “taxonomical” (i.e., categorial/prototype inquiry), and socio-cultural (2006, chs. 1 and 15).

Eventually, I’ll discuss every chapter of the 2006 and 2019 collections. That is, I’m working from a long-range project prospectus which has already listed each of the two anthologies’ chapters for various upcoming discussions, including detailed prospecting of deep friendship, romantic love, passionate love, love of Intimacy, lastingness of love, love as basis for ethical theory (ethics of care: Frankfurt, Slote, Nussbaum), and communal love (as basis of genuine political life). Also, but less directly, bioanthropological and socio-cultural research on love will be part of future topics which are involved with general (theoretical) anthropological and socio-cultural issues, e.g., improvement of Habermas’s conceptual paradigm, relative to a better understanding of “lifeworld” balance of independence and interdependence.

Across all kinds of research into humanity—even across all of science—is the at-least implicit desire to capture the essence of things. Such desire has been explicit in some empirical approaches to “love.” One researcher’s review of empirical research into “laypeople’s conceptions of love” (2019, pp. 157-64) includes “the essentialist approach” (164), which is interesting as scientistic desire—and is not essentialist in any standardly conceptual (metaphysicalist) sense. There, “the concept of love [is articulated] in terms of at least one necessary or essential feature.” That is merely about integral value (ValueV).

Sternberg et al.’s work isn’t associated there with essential features, but others may mistakenly believe that it should be, in some essentialist sense. It should not; Sternberg’s work isn’t essentialist. Empirically derived concepts are model-theoretic, not essentialist. Sternberg is clear about the pragmatic character of his research results. Noting this may seem to be splitting hairs, but the legacy of ontological longing is deeply embedded in the history of science.

My own conceptions are derived from others’ work and my prospecting for pragmatic purposes (enablative, progressive) of evolving human life. That is no more essentialist than implied paradigm relativity in any conceptual venture (where, all in all, an implicit conception of paradigmicity is, in principle, evolving, too).

There’s nothing essentialist about regarding values as integral to selfidentical purposes, thus being essential for one’s understanding and especially for orienting action. This is clear for the research that is portrayed as “essentialist.” It’s not essentialist: “The… feature[s] identified in this [reviewed] model [are] ‘investment in the well-being of the other (also referred to as ‘caring for the other’s well-being for his or her own sake’), a relatively broad term that includes caring, selfless giving, investing effort in promoting the other’s happiness, and the like” (ibid.).

Alas, that’s other-enhancive caring or mindful caring!

The reviewed research regards “trust, respect, intimacy, [and] commitment” as express-
ing “essentialness”; but that’s merely expressing integral value.

Anyway, the reviewed researchers concluded that “people…organize knowledge of what love means i.e., [as “essential,” which is understood] differently from knowledge of what constitutes a good relationship [prototypically]; but, “it is not clear why human cognition could evolve such that” that is the case (ibid.), i.e., in other words, persons commonly distinguish integral values and heuristic values.

But, the researchers are extrapolating from merely psychocultural assays of proximal (everyday) understanding to bioanthropological (primordial) claims, which they haven’t derived. The essential/heuristic difference is really (by actual assay) about differences between [a] selfidentical (independent, life-centered) ValueV (integral value) and [b] understanding of interdependence (prototypical). Or so I would argue.

In any case, it’s all about ordinary love, which may individuate to a higher—Intimate, protean—way of being, which I’ll discuss next.




  Be fair. © 2022, g. e. davis