How Do I Love Thee? The Biology and Psychology of Attachment

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

photo1-225.jpgHistorically, the mysteries of love have been the domain of artists and writers. However, in the context of biology and psychology, we gain a better understanding of the causes and consequences of what we humans call “love.”
Social bonds are at the core of all loving relationships, including those between parent and child or two adults. Associated with social bond formation are biological events including birth, lactation, sexual intercourse, and reacting to threats. Each of these experiences releases powerful chemicals, including a uniquely mammalian hormone known as oxytocin. Studies of socially monogamous rodents, and more recently of humans, reveal that oxytocin is capable of facilitating social bonds, increasing trust, and at the same time facilitating healing and good health. Individual differences in the security of social bonds, in humans, also contribute to a host of social and psychological processes, including coping with threats, expressing sexuality, maintaining satisfying romantic and marital relationships, displaying compassion and altruism toward suffering others, and even functioning in broader social and organizational contexts. Dr. C. Sue Carter (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Dr. Philip R. Shaver (University of California, Davis) discussed some of the most interesting findings concerning love and attachment in humans and other mammals.