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People experience a set of feelings towards other people that we include in the term “love”. Love for children, relatives, friends, etc. One of these kinds of love is especially rare, apparently rare in the animal kingdom in general, and contributes to the fact that people are so specific: love for a partner. That is the so-called romantic love.
Romantic love is perhaps the most pervasive emotion in our culture. Songs, films, plays, paintings or sculptures are dedicated to romantic love and its consequences. Surely we all have a pretty good idea of what love is, but do we have a definition? In a recent sentence, this is defined as: “…a motivational state, usually associated with a desire for long-term mating with a particular individual.”
The feelings associated with love are always intense, like an addiction: very pleasant when things are going well, and very unpleasant when things are going badly (unrequited love, jealousy, suffering after a breakup…).
Love may not seem so necessary from a biological point of view: we could breed with any available person without the need to fall in love (and the risk of suffering). Why then love?
Because of love?
More than 60 genes have been described that are associated with certain characteristics of romantic love. It is also known that dozens of brain regions are involved in one way or another in the expression of romantic love. Hormones and endocrine factors such as dopamine or serotonin undergo changes in their levels when we are in love, acting differently in women and men.
However, the answer to the question why love needs to know its final causes, that is, its adaptive significance in our evolution. Any characteristic of a living being, whether anatomical, physiological, or behavioral, that appears in most individuals of a species, most likely developed due to its positive effect on reproduction.
And what could love promote reproduction? The most likely answer has to do with pair bonding and male cooperation in caring for young. Love causes people to focus their sexual interest on a particular partner.
The most important consequence is that, when reciprocated, it promotes the fidelity of both, with the double effect of certainty of paternity for the male and his cooperation in caring for the offspring. In other words, he favors monogamy as long as it persists as a feeling between the members of the couple.
more immature cubs
In the evolutionary history of the human race, romantic love must have evolved after stable partners and the cooperation of the father in caring for the children. It must have happened after the genre came into being homowhen species with less sexual dimorphism began to appear, denoting a more monogamous mating type compared to the more polygynous one that preceded it.
Adaptations along the human evolutionary line, such as the reduction in pelvic size due to the optimization of bipedal locomotion, along with the increase in brain size, have contributed to mothers producing more immature offspring. As a consequence, the health and survival of these newborns became highly dependent on the combined efforts of both parents. When a couple must work together to produce and raise children together, romantic love takes on its meaning.
Animals are also affectionate and jealous
In many species of animals, the cooperation of the couple is necessary for raising the young. True, it is more common in birds than in mammals. We don’t know exactly to what extent partnerships in other animal species are accompanied by feelings similar to romantic love. But there are lifelong relationships, apparently affectionate behavior, obsessive surveillance or protection of a partner, accompanied by physiological changes.
Cheating in monogamous couples is also common in many animals studied. Genetics has shown us, for example, that many of the offspring of monogamous birds that we find in the nest are not daughters of the official father.
Same-sex sexual behavior is also common in many animals, although, again, there is no evidence that anything like love exists, as occurs in humans between same-sex individuals.
Undoubtedly, the biological basis of romantic love between people of the same sex deserves detailed consideration in another special article.
A future without romantic love?
In today’s society, cut off from natural processes and with contraceptive methods that allow us to make decisions about the reproductive outcomes of our sexuality, in addition to being able to reproduce without the need for love and even without a partner, it is obvious that they do not receive the genes responsible for the sake of love. the result they had before.
Perhaps this human trait, like many others, is maintained by phylogenetic inertia, that is, the fact that genetic material tends to be copied with little change from one generation to the next.
Apart from the tendencies of social influences that add to the biological background, this situation of weak natural selection in itself increases the random variability of biological traits and hence the loss of the prevailing pattern. Could the type of love we know today disappear over time, or at least coexist with new variations and possibilities?
It may be risky to say that we are in for a world without romantic love, in which people are not particularly motivated to form sustainable relationships. Or, who knows, maybe it’s already happening.
Juan Carranza Almanza, professor of zoology, University of Cordoba and Javier Perez-Gonzalez, Professor of Biology and Ethology, University of Extremadura
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
I’m a passionate and motivated journalist with a focus on world news. My experience spans across various media outlets, including Buna Times where I serve as an author. Over the years, I have become well-versed in researching and reporting on global topics, ranging from international politics to current events.