Attraction & Love Research Paper Starter

Attraction & Love

Many of us have felt powerfully attracted to and in "love" with somebody more than once in our lives. To make sense of the raw emotion experienced during such times, we invariably turn to culturally-mediated constructs—love at first sight, true love, Christian love, etc. Sociologists in turn try to make sense of each amid love and attraction's unique features, and shed light on our underlying motives for and subjective experience of desire. Indeed, at first glance contemporary culture seems head-over-heels in love with love. And for good reason, for there are few experiences that match its intensity, that bring us more delight and despair, that confound and conflict us more.

Keywords Agape; Conjugal Love; Dyadic Relationship; Eros; Ideal-Types; Impression Management; Ludus; Mania; Pragma; Romantic Love; Storge; Symbolic Interactionism



Romantic love defies easy explanation. Very few of us, if pressed, could list the exact reasons why we have fallen in love with one person and not another. We just do. But this does not mean we are constantly searching for answers in the great works of literature by Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Austen, et al., as well as the pulp-fiction romances, "date" movies, and sentimental music lyrics of pop culture. Indeed, at first glance contemporary culture seems head-over-heels in love with love. And for good reason, for there are few experiences that match its intensity, that bring us more delight and despair, that confound and conflict us more.

Instinct partly accounts for this fixation. Sex ranks alongside aggression and fear as the most basic unconscious urges shaping human behavior. Love, however, is as much an idea as it is an expression of an instinctive drive and therefore a subject of great interest to sociologists as well as psychoanalysts. Each of us filters raw experience through a socially constructed lens and only then assigns it meaning via language, be it verbal, visual, or written.

This premise underlies symbolic interactionism, a body of sociology theory that examines how the sociocultural context we refer to in a given situation determines our response, not the situation per se. Quite literarily, reality is largely what other people say it is. Language by its very nature is a collective undertaking, the meaning it conveys culturally arbitrated ("Theories and theorizing," 2003).

And here, one of the most important cognitive representations we as individuals intuit from our milieu is a repertoire of relationship-archetypes. "Falling in love" and marriage are two such models. Extramarital affairs, one-night stands, "friends with benefits" and "living together," though perhaps not as conventional, are nonetheless equally well-defined (Forgas & Dobosz, 1980).

Impression Management

Much like a script an actor works from in creating a character, these models cue us as to how best to win the admiration, acceptance, and love we hunger after. All of us accordingly engage in some form of impression management: i.e., project an image of ourselves we think will find the most favor with others, accentuating some traits, downplaying others. The particulars of the character we assume, what's more, change with each person with whom we associate; the powerful underlying motive for adopting these stylized personas never does change ("Socialization, identity, and interaction," 2003).

But what exactly are we looking for most of all in a romantic one-one or dyadic relationship that causes us to behave this way? Some researchers believe people look for qualities in a loved one they themselves lack but admire and want. Romantic love in this instance (the theory goes) disguises a more fundamental motive: the attainment of the ego-ideal by proxy. Others posit that people look for mates with needs-patterns that compliment their own (Winch, 1955). Still others have theorized that sharing similar attitudes and beliefs encourages intimacy and that the greater the intimacy the less divisive the remaining differences become (Centers, 1975).


In infatuation, alternatively, the normal pattern of disliking people appreciably different from ourselves is temporarily suspended in our haste to idealize the object of our desire. This form of attraction is noted for its suddenness and emotional power but also for its total lack of a concomitant intimacy (McClanahan, Gold, Lenney, Ryckman & Kulberg, 1990). Noticeable differences in specific motives for love have also been observed. The traditionally-minded, in general, find fulfillment in the emotional investment and subsequent dependency of a romantic relationship and the flowing give-and-take of a romantic relationship for fulfillment; more contemporary-types look for intimacy and mutual respect. Women by and large have also been found to be more inclined to a relationship, voice their feelings more, and have greater respect for their partners than men (Critelli, Myers & Loos, 1986).

Further Insights

The difference between "liking" and "loving" may lie in how long a couple quite literally gazes into each other's eyes. These measurements were taken to confirm the findings of an in-depth attitudinal questionnaire administered to pairs of subjects either dating or "just" friends (Rubin, 1970). Surprisingly, both groups' written responses closely resembled each other; both exhibited affiliative and dependent needs, a predisposition to help, and an orientation toward exclusiveness and absorption.


The only demonstrated difference was one of degree: dating couples' experiences of each were more intensely felt than their platonic counterparts.' Conceivably, then, an objectively valid "love" scale might be constructed. Results from the controlled experiment supported this hypothesis; as predicted, dating couples' eye-contact did indeed last longer. Romantic love, in effect, may well flow from the same emotional wellspring as conjugal love.

By the same token, though, few would dispute that the two also inspire notably dissimilar feeling-states and behavior. Many of us at one time or another have experienced the passion, physical attraction, and idealization of the object of our affections unique to romantic love. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a close friendship, meanwhile, has more than a passing familiarity with the hallmarks of conjugal love: trust, lack of criticalness, mutual appreciation, sharing, loyalty, and genuine knowledge of the other (Driscoll, Davis & Lupetz, 1972).

In either case, we search out the one person who most strongly and fully satisfies our deepest personal needs, chief among which are: sex; affectionate intimacy; the maintenance and enrichment of our sexual identity; acceptance and approval; and validation of our sense of self-worth (Centers, 1975). Such in fact is the strength of these needs that the mere expectation that someone can provide all of this is sufficient enough reason to emotionally engage with him or her. As long as we perceive the resulting relationship does this, for that matter, we continue investing in it even when, objectively speaking, it does not. And therein lies the rub of many a romantic attachment.


Self-esteem may indeed make someone more or less romantically inclined, along with defensiveness. Less guarded individuals with a strong sense of self-worth arguably are the most likely candidates; naturally defensive ones with low-self esteem the least likely. The former did report greater frequency in some studies but, interestingly, the same degree of satisfaction and fulfillment than the latter. An alternate hypothesis claims that low self-esteem individuals pursue romantic love more fervently for the sense of acceptance and worthiness it bestows.

Much here, though, may depend on the innate defensiveness of the person in question. Intimacy involves self-revelation and possible rejection, a turn of events someone already suffering from low self-esteem would rather avoid. Or it may just be that people with a low opinion of themselves are simply less adept in general at forming relationships. In either case, the end result would be fewer romantic involvements, a conclusion borne out in subsequent studies. Risk has its rewards: respondents on the whole said they were emotionally "genuine," intense experiences. Defensiveness per se though, may actually be the deciding factor, for investigators also found that similarly disposed subjects endowed with high self-esteem reported fewer episodes as well (Dion & Dion, 1975).

The Science of Love

Intense romantic feelings stimulate specific regions of the brain containing high concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemical couriers involved in triggering euphoria, craving, addiction, heightened attention, or sleeplessness (Bianchi-Demicheli, Grafton & Ortigue, 2006, p. 92). They have also been linked with dramatic cognitive changes. For, the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despair lovers experience resemble the mood swings of bipolar disorder believed to be linked to sudden upswings in the presence of these two neurotransmitters.

Likewise, our mental preoccupation with the beloved resembles the intrusive thinking characteristic of an obsessive-compulsive disorder marked by an increase in dopamine levels and an accompanying decrease in serotonin. Certainly there is ample reason from the evolutionary perspective for these correspondences. Were it not for a sudden, complete suspension of our natural defensiveness, few of us would...

(The entire section is 4249 words.)