Human beings have been contemplating romantic love since an ancient Mesopotamian scribe wrote the story of the goddess Inannas passionate and conflicted relationship with the shepherd Dumuzi some 4000 years ago. Also recorded was the dramatic tale of Inannas brother Gilgamesh, whose relationships with females were disturbingly problematic for everyone, including himself. What such ancient stories might contribute to a modern understanding of the nature love is not examined by Sternberg, Weis, and the twenty-two researchers represented in The New Psychology of Love. Instead, their research is presented as an entry into, and appropriation of, unexplored territory.
There is occasional passing reference throughout TNPOL to earlier commentators-mythic, literary, philosophical, and theological. However, there is minimal concern to integrate earlier conceptualisations of love into a new theoretical, scientific examination of the subject-with one notable exception to be touched upon later. In her Introduction to TNPOL Karen Weis writes:
In earlier times, psychologists had surrendered the study of love to poets, songwriters, philosophers, and the like. Only recently had the study of love begun to make its way from the status of a frivolous topic (sic) to that of a suitable topic for behavioral-scientific study.
Weiss vague designation in earlier times is confusing, and the notion that the author of the Song of Songs, St. Paul, Augustine, Shakespeare et al could be described as frivolous seems itself somewhat frivolous.
In fact Sternberg and Weiss new psychology of love does not attempt to distinguish itself from the extant literature on love with which many readers might be familiar, such as St. Pauls classic 1Corinthians 13. Instead new points back to Robert J. Sternbergs first edited compilation of scientific data on the subject of love published a mere twenty years ago, in 1988. This follow-up volume tackles the many changes in the study of love in recent years, simultaneously discussing new theories that have been proposed in the interim, as well as those modified by new relevant data. Senior editor Sternberg, dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, is an internationally renowned psychologist whose extensive CV features myriad publications on subjects such as intelligence, wisdom, creativity, as well as love. Karen Weis, the co-editor for this second iteration, is a graduate student at the University of Heidelberg who is currently doing research on the subject of hate. It is Ms. Weis who has scripted both the Introduction and Conclusion to TNPOL.
Yale University Press markets The New Psychology of Love as todays definitive account of the nature of love. The editors and researchers of TNPOL are happily a little more modest. They tell us what has been achieved in twenty years of scientific research on the phenomenon of love, but they also confirm there is a long way to go before their standard scientific methodology of hypothesis, theory, and research yields an objective and definitive understanding of love. Specifically, they acknowledge that after two decades of standard due diligence they do not yet have a consensually accepted vocabulary, that is, an agreed upon definition of the word love.
Nonetheless, in spite of the provisional nature of their findings to date the researchers of TNPOL do conceive of themselves experts, thus distinguishing themselves from ordinary people, or lay people (persons who may experience or long to experience something that they call love but dont have the academic status or scientific tools to examine love with objective scholarly rigor). In her essay Implicit Theories of Love, Beverly Fehr reports on her research, which focuses on the conceptions ordinary people have of love. In what seems to be an informal example of peer review, Fehr points out that some of her colleagues function under the assumption that lay people are not equipped to describe complex concepts such as love. She quotes Berscheid and Myers  who have written that directly asking people to describe the cultural models they use to interpret events within a particular domain is not likely to be wholly successful for the same reason that interviews with fish seldom yield mentions of water. (Note the surprising switch from scientific language which speaks of domain to a literary metaphor describing people as fish.) Fehr counters by defending the hapless fish she has studied as individuals who seem to do quite well when directly asked to describe the qualities of the water they inhabit.
Naturally, the authors want ordinary people to read their book. While they do present their concepts and constructs in precise scientific lab-speak, they occasionally resort to more homespun literary flourishes presumably as bait for ordinary souls who might be floundering in the sea of love. Example: In A Dynamical Evolutionary View of Love Douglas Kenrick hypothesizes that decision biases are innate biases of the mind designed to facilitate powerful social bonds essential to survival and reproduction and are hence highly adaptive. He then moves seamlessly from Darwinian discourse to a dance analogy in the same paragraph: Decision biases in one individual interact in a dynamic way with those of other individuals. Each decision bias affecting loving bonds involves an if-then contingency rule in which inputs from other people determine whether the actor picks one option or another . . . Not only does it take two to tango, but two rarely tango alone in a dark basement; instead, their carefully coordinated maneuvers are typically executed within a larger ballroom crowd who often change partners as they move in time to the same rhythms [my emphasis].
The primary focus of most of the research presented in this book is the dyadic relationship between man and woman-romantic love. However one section, A Biobehavioral Model of Attachment and Bonding (Leckman, Hrdy, Keverne and Carter), includes substantive analysis of the attachment experienced between parent and child. This section also describes successful clinical strategies for strengthening the parent/child bond when it is at risk, thus completing the arc from research to application that other sections have yet to achieve. In this case, the researchers understand love as the conscious subjective experience that arises from, and that can influence, all aspects of bonding and attachment within our species. They adapted this conceptual construct from an18th century philosophical treatise by Stendhal-the notable exception I allude to above. Stendahl provides this epigraph for their contribution: Every variety of love . . . is born, lives, dies, or attains immortality in accordance with the same laws. (On Love, 1822). Perhaps this statement could or should have been used as an epigraph for the book as a whole, given the preoccupation articulated by most of the researchers, namely that their ultimate goal is to distill a unified field theory of love from their diverse approaches to the subject: biological, cultural, taxonomic, and prototypal.
As well as developing interventions which will improve the human capacity to maximise positive outcomes in romantic attachments, some researchers also hope to refine their methodology sufficiently to be able to make predictions, like who will be attracted to whom. This made me wonder whether social scientists are interested in removing the highly desirable quality of mystery and surprise associated with romantic love. I also conjectured that such predictions might actually be impossible. It was almost a century ago that theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg informed the scientific community that there are inherent limits to what can be predicted on the subatomic level of reality (The Uncertainty Principle, 1929). Perhaps social scientists should ask whether similar limits apply to human behaviour. At least one philosopher theologian, Bernard Lonergan, integrated Heisenbergs conclusion into his conceptual world. This is relevant because Lonergan applies the Uncertainty Principle in a challenge to research scientists themselves: We must be prepared for the fact that our researchers . . . may exhibit . . . a diversity of results, where the diversity does not arise from the data but rather the horizon, the mindset . . . of those conducting the investigation. In TNPOL the researchers seem dimly aware that their research on love is influenced by the conceptual matrix from which they generate their questions and formulate their theories. That is to say, whether they are aware of it or not, they are not objective observer; they too are participants-fish swimming in the same water as their subjects.
The contributing researchers seem content with their assumption that the field of love is simply an evolving academic discipline. But if they thought of field more metaphorically, as a medium like water (Fehrs analogy discussed above), they might find themselves more open to existing conceptualisations, including the theological kind. Weis seems to take an unconscious conceptual leap in her concluding sentence when she speaks of love as a force, a notion not specifically examined in TNPOL. But force connects naturally with the concept of field in physics, and may even be sublated in theological constructs such as: it is in God that we live and move and have our being.
Gwen Nowak (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Robert J. Sternberg is dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. He is the author or editor of some sixty books, including Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, published by Yale University Press. Karin Weis is a research associate at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative of the J. F. Kennedy School of Government and School of Public Health at Harvard University.