The Science of Falling in Love: Attachment Theories and Biases

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Love is a universal emotion that has become the basis of marriage and family for many societies, which researchers continue to explore (Braxton-Davis, 2010). Lamanna & Reidmann (2009) sees romantic love as the norm since eighteenth-century Europe, when marriage has been connected with romance, but confluent love is on the rise in Western society as Braxton-Davis cited Giddens (2010). Romantic love refers to that which perpetuates gender stereotypes of the breadwinning father and homemaking mother; these roles remain persistent throughout the relationship. It is a love that is supposed to stand the test of time, enduring all hardship. Romantic love emphasizes being in love with a certain individual, “the one.” 

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On the other hand, there is confluent love that is more flexible with the roles that individuals play, and it emphasizes a relationship in which the growth of each person is important. In order to form a relationship, there must be some type of attraction (Braxton-Davis, 2010), which is either physically or on a personality level. Numerous researchers have found physical trait to be a major determinant in the dating and relationship process (Luo & Zhange, 2009). There is a negative association between aging and physical attractiveness. Margolin, as cited by Braxton-Davis (2010), demonstrated that husbands actually become less attracted to their wives as their beauty fades, which negatively affects men’s sexual and overall relationship satisfaction. While physical attractiveness is a significant factor of falling in love, other factors contribute to love and attraction besides physical attraction. This includes physiology and similarity. 

Research has shown similarity to be an integral part of a relationship that contributes to love and attraction (Braxton-Davis, 2010). The study was conducted to 206 university students and findings showed that the hypothesis that physical attractiveness and similarity would be most influential in producing attraction, was partially supported and found out to be second to personality. Therefore, Braxton-Davis (2010) concluded that personality was a stronger determinant of attraction that led to falling in love than physical attraction. Further in her studies, it showed that person will fit in their lives. This is where the personality becomes important. An individual contemplates how the other person makes him/her feel, which outweighs the single factor of physical attractiveness. It is not rare to hear stories of individuals becoming attracted to and growing to love someone only after they had spent much time with that person. 

The time spent together allows intimacy to develop, deepening the attraction the individuals share. In other words, while the personality is not necessary for initial physical attraction, it has the power to promote strong feelings of attraction, and it can only enhance the potential for a relationship. Other researches show other psychological manifestations of falling in love. Firestone and Catlett, as cited by Kokab and Ajmal (2012) describe love as 'those behaviors that enhance emotional well-being, sense of self, and autonomy”. Romantic love is a bond or connection between two people that results in trust, intimacy, and interdependence. In Rubin’s view (as cited in Cherry, 2009), romantic love is composed of three elements; attachment, care, and intimacy. 

Attachment includes the need to have care and approval for the other person. Care is wishing the other person to be happy, and intimacy includes sharing of thoughts, desires, and feelings. Romantic love occurs when a person with his partner feels emotionally high, elated, and passionate as cited by Sheri and Stritof (2009). Ashira (2009) sees love as a passion for another person to the extent that you can’t live without him/her. Gottschall and Marcus (2006) defines it is a desire for union with someone, to idealize him/her, to dramatically changes one’s life priorities, to care about other person’s well-being, and to feel empty and agony in his/her absence which is a universal experience. How love is perceived here is certainly restricted to positive qualities leaving flaws in their partners overlooked. Luo, as cited by Kokab and Ajmal (2012) reported that romantic attraction leads to positivity bias in which the person only sees the positive qualities in his/her partner. It also leads to similarity bias in which the person sees his/her partner similar to him/her and idealization biases in which the partner seems to be similar to one's ideal self. 

Kokab and Ajmal cited Davenport’s (2012) report on obsessive thoughts about the partner to be an important component of love. Partners think about each other all the time. They fantasize being with each other, e.g., going on a long drive, going for a dinner, getting married, etc. Even while hearing a romantic song they associate it with their partners. These fantasies bring happiness to them and also help in reducing stress. Master (as cited in Bering, 2009) examined if romantic partners altered the perception of pain. Results indicated that viewing lovers’ photographs or holding their hands reduced the perception of pain though pain was stimulated more than the participants’ pain threshold.

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