The science of love under the spotlight
(26 September 2011)
Poets and writers have done their best to understand love but it remains a mystery. Now researchers in the Departments of Psychology and Anthropology are setting out to unravel the science of love.
The psychologists and anthropologists hope to get a better evolutionary understanding of the emotional 'fuzziness' of love. They are now calling on adults, young and old, to share their thoughts, anonymously, on love and their present or past partners through an online survey.
The researchers believe love can be divided up into three components: lust, romance and attachment with each of the elements with its own distinct function. However, questions remain. For example, they are not yet sure whether we can experience romantic love without sexual desire or if attachments can come before romance.
Results from the study will help to understand whether humans are a naturally pair-bonded species and if this is the case, whether we pair bond for life or, as some have suggested, just for as long as it takes to raise a child past toddlerhood. The researchers also hope to get some clues about the 'glue' that holds couples together and whether this is composed differently for men and women.
Professor Anne Campbell, from Durham University's Psychology Department, said: "We are calling on people to share their experiences, anonymously, of their relationships and desires to get a better understanding of the interaction between lust, romance and attachment.
"Take romance for example; it seems inexplicable to most people but it is found in every culture around the world, albeit normally with a limited shelf life. Although it may seem a mystifying phenomenon, psychologists believe its function is to focus the sex drive onto one preferred partner. Two brain neurochemicals seem to be involved: dopamine, which is associated with pleasure, and oxytocin, linked to bonding. The levels of these chemicals increase during sexual activity in monogamous species and the resulting cocktail feels like romantic love.
"Likewise, there are evolutionary explanations for lust and attachment too. Our aim now is to understand the interaction between these seemingly distinct functions of love."
The study is open to anyone aged 18 or over, the responses are anonymous and the survey takes about 10 minutes to complete.
To take part in this survey please click here.