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How do famous Psychologists define ‘Love’?

Psychologists definition of love

Table of Contents

Psychologists have studied ‘love’ for decades, each developing their own theories on this complex human emotion.

Here are perspectives on love from some of the world’s most famous psychologists.

George C. Homans

Social exchange theory first identified by American sociologist George C. Homans in 1958 explains that people engage in relationships based on the expectation of receiving benefits and minimizing costs. These benefits can be material, emotional, or social.

Individuals essentially assess the perceived or potential benefits, and view if they outweigh the costs. When imbalances occur, individuals may use strategies like negotiation or ending the relationship to restore equilibrium or adjust the balance in their favour. This theory helps us understand how people evaluate the balance of give and take in their relationships.

George C. Homans | Sociologist | 1910-1989

Ref: Emerson R. Social exchange theory. Ann Rev Sociol. 1976;2:335-62. doi:10.1146/annurev.so.02.080176.002003

George C. Homans

Sigmund Freud

Freud believed love is driven by libido, our unconscious urge to satisfy primitive instincts. For Freud, love is a means to an end, not an end in itself. He thought people choose partners who resemble their opposite-sex parent, in an attempt to resolve unconscious childhood conflicts.

Sigmund Freud | Austrian neurologist | 1856-1939

Sigmund Freud

B.F. Skinner

The behaviorist B.F. Skinner saw love as a learned behavior, the result of positive reinforcement like rewards and punishments. We fall in love with people who reward us with good feelings. In Skinner’s view, love is really about gratification and meeting one’s own needs.

B. F. Skinner | Behavior analysis | 1904-1990

BF Skinner

Abraham Maslow

Maslow included love as one of our basic human needs in his famous hierarchy of needs. For Maslow, love gives us a sense of belonging and helps us achieve self-actualization. He believed we must first meet basic physiological and safety needs before we can pursue love and intimacy with another person.

Abraham Maslow | Psychology | 1908-1970

Abraham Maslow - Divorce Club Expert

John Bowlby

Bowlby proposed that an infant’s early attachment to their primary caregiver shapes their ability to form loving relationships later in life. He said we are born with an innate need to attach to others to ensure our survival. This attachment style influences the way we experience and express love as adults.

John Bowlby | Psychology | 1907-1990

John Bowlby

Robert Sternberg

Sternberg defined love in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness, passion encompasses romance and physical attraction, and commitment means the dedication to maintain the relationship. According to Sternberg, the presence or absence of these three components determines the nature of a relationship.

Robert Sternberg | Cognitive psychology | 1949+

Robert Sternberg


The perspectives of these famous psychologists show the complexity of defining and understanding this universal human emotion. Love means different things to different people, but however you define it love gives a deep richness and depth to life we each want to experience.

At the end of the day, you have to find your own truth about love. Maybe love for you is all about passion and excitement, or maybe it’s more about commitment and shared interests. Their maybe some risk in seeking love, but for most love is absolutely worth it.

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