2 minute read


Attachment Theory And The Evolution Of Love

Evolutionary psychology is a broad group of theories that include sex and mating practices as part of their domain (e.g., Buss and Kenrick 1998). Most mammals engage in a mix of emotional expressions and attachment behaviors that, in human terms, appear to be love. In fact, John Bowlby (1969) developed an elaborate evolutionary theory of human infant attachment as the precursor of and foundation for human love. Cindy Hazan and Phillip P. Shaver (1987) elaborated Bowlby's infant attachment theory into an adult model of romantic love. Sydney L. W. Mellen (1981) wrote an entire book on the evolution of love. Mellen speculated that species survival depended on primitive emotional bonding between breeding pairs of proto-humans. Such bonding enhanced survival rates, and in a few hundred generations passionate love emerged as a defining human attribute. Thus attachment processes and love may be closely linked.

The attachment behavior first identified by Bowlby was further explored by Mary D. S. Ainsworth and her colleagues (1978), whose research with infants and their mothers resulted in the articulation of three basic attachment styles. These include secure attachment (warmth and trust in relationships), anxious/ambivalent attachment (nervous dissatisfaction with either closeness or separateness in relationships), and avoidant attachment (discomfort with closeness in relationship).

Hazan and Shaver (1987) adapted the three infant attachment styles to adult romantic relationships, and Kim Bartholomew (1990) broadened the styles from three to four, essentially differentiating avoidance based on dismissal from avoidance based on fearfulness. Much research effort has gone into conceptualizing and measuring attachment over the last decade, and there is some consensus that there are indeed four rather than three styles. It is also possible to view attachment as dimensions rather than styles, meaning that instead of fitting into only one of four attachment boxes, everyone has aspects of all four attachment styles (Feeney, Noller, and Roberts 2000).

Attachment processes are clearly relevant for human socialization. Further, attachment does appear similar to various types of love, including some aspects of romantic love. As an area of scientific theory and research, however, attachment has become very complex. It is not known if there are different types of attachment, or if attachment varies in small steps on one or more dimensions. The stability of attachment processes over the life span is another area of controversy. Perhaps these and other issues will be sorted out as this research tradition matures.

The theories discussed so far capture a broad range of the human experience of love. But they do not capture all of it. To broaden the conception still further, this entry considers a sociological theory developed by John Alan Lee (1973), described in his book The Colors of Love, and commonly referred to as a theory of love styles.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsLove - Passionate And Companionate Love, Prototypes Of Love, Triangular Theory Of Love, Attachment Theory And The Evolution Of Love - Conclusion