Book Review: The Psychology Of Love

The Psychology Of Love, edited by Robert J. Sternberg & Michael L. Barnes

The psychology of love is one of the less clearly defined areas of psychology, a field in general that suffers from a wide gulf between its objective and scientific ambitions and self-professions and its rampant subjectivity in terms of its actual content and approaches.  In few areas of psychology is that gap between the way that psychologists view themselves and the way that their work looks to others more obvious than in the field of love.  This book does a good job at pointing out a wide variety of distinct approaches to love but it also, perhaps intentionally, also points out the gap that exists between the way that these writers see themselves as scientists and researchers and the way that readers will be able to see them as partial human beings with their own biases and perhaps a bit more education but not a lot more insight than novelists and others.  Indeed, some of the more insightful scholars here point out the way that literature is more insightful about love than psychology is, in the hope of using some of those insights to help them out as researchers.  This is not surprising but certainly not a high degree of praise for a field that wishes to view itself as authoritative in looking at one of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior.

This book is almost 400 pages long and is divided into five parts and sixteen chapters.  After a short preface seeks to talk up the book the two editors introduce the work by introducing the reader to the psychology of love (I, 1).  After that the next seven chapters serve as a discussion of global theories of love (II), including Murstein’s taxonomy of love (2), Lee’s look at love styles (3), a chapter on attachment theory relating to love and relationships by three scholars (4), a paper on Buss on the evolutionary biology of love (5), a chapter by Sternberg on his triangles (6), Levinger’s discussion of how we picture love (7), and a chapter by Peele on the romantic ideal and addictive love (8).  Four chapters then follow on theories of romantic love (III), including ones on the difference between passionate and companionate love by Hatfield (9), Branden’s vision of romantic love (10), Brehm’s thoughts on passionate love (11), and individual and cultural perspectives that are anti-American from the Dions (12).  The fourth part of the book looks at theories of love and relationship maintenance (IV), including Byrne and Murnen on maintaining loving relationships (13), a look at love within life (14), and a cognitive account of love in marriage (15).  The book then ends with some comments on love’s anatomy from Ellen Berschid (16) to give an overview, after which there is a list of contributors and editors and an index.

The essays here give a full range to the creativity of people in writing about love, but even more than is usually the case when one reads what people write, it is impossible to separate what is being written from the personal biases of the people who are engaged in writing.  Some of the writers themselves to be more unbiased because they approach love from an anti-American perspective that de-emphasizes individuality or because they fancy themselves to be evolutionary psychologists or behavioral psychologists or cognitive psychologists who can tap into some illusory objective reality to bring to bear on the subject of love.  Yet these essays demonstrate that people cannot agree what is included in love, miss large aspects of love that exist within the English language and simultaneously demonstrate that as hard as they study the subject of love, it remains elusive for them and it is not something that they really are able to successfully grasp.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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