Study asks: what’s love got to do with it?

Romantic love isn’t just an emotion but a broad collection of feelings and behaviours key to human evolution, researchers say.

A study by Australian National University researchers is one in a limited field of research on romantic love.

Earlier research lacked a proper definition of what love “is” and conflated different forms of love, study co-author Adam Bode said.

Mr Bode said the latest research narrowed romantic love down to a measurable set of behavioural incentives that people normally experience early in a relationship.

“It’s not an emotion, it’s a bunch of emotions but it’s also a bunch of thoughts and a bunch of behaviours as well,” he said.

The findings give insights into why humans evolved to experience romantic love, which is only seen in a handful of other primates.

It influences pair bonding and courtship, encourages lovers to have sex and in prehistoric times it helped ensure the survival of mothers and newborn babies.

“Ultimately, we can have these emotions, but the role of the emotion is to direct our behaviour towards particular things,” Mr Bode said.

The study of 1556 young adults who identified as being in love is the first in the world to investigate the brain’s behavioural activation system and romantic love.

The system motivates the brain to work towards rewards and adapted it to love.

“It can increase our mood when we’re getting positive reinforcement, from something we like, it can make us think about something that’s particularly important such as obsessive thinking about items, and it activates physical motion as well,” Mr Bode said.

The next stage of the research involves investigating the differences between men and women in their approach to love and a worldwide survey identifying four different types of romantic lovers.


Nyk Carnsew
(Australian Associated Press)


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