Romantic Love is A Basic Emotion explanation


The list of basic emotions remains contentious to date. This is because while in everyday life people consider romantic love to be part of the list of basic emotions, theoretical researchers continue to classify it as a non-basic emotion. However, there is a need for further empirical studies to verify whether it is a basic emotion or not because current research on this subject does not conclude on this matter. Love is described as a particular element of personal relationships or even a particular emotion that a person could be feeling towards another. Romantic love is considered ever-present and has a critical impact on people’s lives. This is because it is made up of attachment and infatuations (Allen, 2007).
Infatuation is an attraction or passionate love that is concerned with the amorous and overwhelming feeling for a special person, whereas compassionate love mirrors the comforting feeling of emotional bonding with another person. Therefore, it is critical to realize that attachment and infatuation are separate but not reciprocally exclusive (Bookwala and Crote, 2009).
Most emotional theorists list love as a non-basic emotion citing the fact that it is characterized by plots rather than emotions. Its plots such as infatuation, grief, and jealousy involve certain kinds of situations and roles as well as more than one person. Jealousy involves at least three people while grief and infatuation involve two. In Ekman’s perception, an experience that involves this kind of social context cannot be classified as a basic emotion (Ekman, 2011). This paper holds that Ekman’s argument is invalid because, in spite of his contentions, he went ahead to classify contempt as a basic emotion. However, contempt entails a script and at least two people where one person makes a judgment or looks down at the other.
In perceiving romantic love in light of its attachment tenets, it is complex in nature. Many scientists have echoed this statement as they considered removing it from their list of basic emotions. In the everyday itinerary of its operations, the attachment cognitive behaviour produces a host of emotions; for instance, grief, surges of love, loneliness, separation, jealousy, anxiety, and anger. Perceived from this angle love seems to have more than one emotion (Robin, 2010).
However, in the opinion of this paper, romantic love by virtue of being a plot is not unusual. This is because fear, anger, and sadness also involve plots and at times these plots are associated with attachment. Romantic love can be said to be unusual since it is deeply entangled with attachment and caregiving. If the ethological and neurological foundations of love are ever to be comprehended, the phenomenon of attachment will have to be explained in the process.

Basic Emotions

Basic emotions are believed to be characterized by evolutionary neurobiological substrates. The evolutionary basis triggers a feeling element and the capacity for meaningful behavioural actions (Ekman and Ellsworth, 2011). In their interactions with a person’s cognitions and experiences, they generate various idiosyncratic and complex emotional experiences. While complex sentimental reactions can be comprehended in the form of more essential elements, it is not possible to speak the same of basic emotions. This means that basic emotions are non-reducible and thus basic (Ekman and Ellsworth, 2011). Therefore, theorists argue that most emotions experienced by adults are not simple in nature. The content that basic emotions are short in duration, few in number, and relatively infrequent.

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The Need to Do an Empirical Study to Answer This Question

The reason why it is critical to do a scientific study and verify whether or not romantic love is a basic emotion is that many studies done in this area indicate that people experience romantic love in several instances in their lifetime; however, they do not conclude on whether it is a basic emotion or not. Romantic love is usually accompanied by a set of physical, cognitive, and behavioural symptoms and it ends up affecting peoples’ lives by a great deal. People are often more than willing to change their manners of dressing, religions, hobbies, countries, jobs, and friends to be with their loved ones. The high frequency of romantic love and its wide ranging impact on peoples’ lives calls for an intensive study to verify if it’s a basic emotion or not (Shaver and Shwartz, 2008).

Empirical Studies and How Romantic Love has Been Defined and Measured

Several empirical studies have been conducted to find out if romantic love is a basic emotion. One of the experiments evaluated whether the strength of romantic love is a deterrence function to this effect. This sought to establish a reason that would make one not feel the effect and investigated the impact of deterrents relevant to the stimulus that instigate emotion. Consistent with the emotional intensity theory, the findings of this empirical undertaking showed that a minor relevant partner flaw minimizes the positive affect towards a romantic partner, and an essential partner flaw maintained its intensity. The first study’s results were replicated in the second study. In the third study, a romantic negative impact in the form of anger at the romantic partner indicated the function of a relevant emotional characteristic on a positive partner (Robin, 2010).
In an empirical undertaking, 124 couples who were dating were tested for a discrete systems model of the functions of two emotional systems in romantic relationships: romantic love and anger. The results had numerous inconsistencies on the level of behavioural attributes and thus did not conclude on whether romantic love is a basic or non-basic emotion. Inconsistencies in characteristic romantic love and anger levels experienced in distinct relationships must track the specified, broadly autonomous fitness-related features of these relationships (Bookwala and Crote, 2009). Particularly in terms of romantic love and anger, findings in this study indicated the following:

i) Anger Emotions

Anger emotions function as representatives of premeditated interferences by an individual’s partner and operate to prepare and motivate individuals to respond adaptively to these intrusions. The researchers’ use of anger as a term points to relationship specific behaviours, summary conceptual of the characteristic anger levels that persons go through during conflicts with their partners. Strategic interferences within a relationship refer to behaviours done by an individual’s romantic partner; for instance, physical coercion, sexual rejection, and infidelity that block the attainment of an individual’s goals (Shaver and Shwartz, 2008).
Persons who are inclined to experience somehow strong anger feelings in conflict with their romantic partners must be concerned in relationships typical of high levels of tactical interference. They must also experience quite a frequent activation of behaviour modifiable processes that function to minimize these interferences, for instance, through energizing aggression to provocation sources. This assertion indicates that the relationship between partners directed aggression and strategic interference are mediated by feelings of anger (Bookwala and Crote, 2009).

ii) Romantic Love Emotions

Romantic love emotions inform individuals of general levels of premeditated facilitation by an individual’s romantic partner. Therefore, it prepares and stimulates an individual to respond adaptively to this facilitation. Love refers to a relational particular trait, an attitude held by an individual towards another individual, and involves predispositions to behave, think, and feel in certain ways towards another individual. However, in romantic love, these actions, thoughts, and feelings are inclined to entail strong dependent and affinitive needs, absorption, as well as a predisposition to help and exclusiveness. Strategic facilitation in a relationship is about the behaviours that are exhibited by ones romantic partner (Robin, 2010).

A Synthesis of Findings across Studies

Current Studies on romantic love are limited by using self-report measures of romantic love and anger; hence, they do not conclude whether it is a basic emotion or not. This is because there has not been found a valid method of measuring romantic love and anger. However, future researchers on this subject could gain a lot by collecting extra sources of data, including coding of expressed emotion, facial expressions and online psychological evaluations. This will be applicable during relational conflict episodes in order to verify whether it is a basic motion or not. It is critical that future researchers incorporate the discrete emotion model in their studies. However, they should use another cohort of the populations since the generalizability of past studies was limited because of using college age, a middle-class couple who were dating (Shaver and Shwartz, 2008).
There is a need for future studies to replicate the discrete model on the samples that differ on marital status, age, socioeconomic status, as well as culture. Even though the discrete model is particular about causal relationships, it does not conclude whether romantic love is a basic emotion or not. The causation direction should be subject for further research since there could be bidirectional underlying relations within the romantic love and anger emotional systems that could prove that it is indeed a basic emotion (Rusbult, 2009).

Proposed Study to verify if Romantic Love is a Basic Emotion

It is difficult for an effective phenomenon to be considered a basic emotion if it feels like another emotion. Previous studies that focused on the question of whether romantic love was a basic emotion or not did not provide conclusive answers. Given romantic love’s pleasant quality, it is feasible that individuals who report being in a romantic love relation will also point out that they feel joy. This could be the probable reason why researchers have not considered romantic love a basic emotion. Therefore, this research proposes to do an empirical study, which will employ stimuli that will selectively exclude romantic love and joy. This would provide a better avenue of verifying if indeed romantic love is a basic emotion (Ekman and Ellsworth, 2011).
Since joy is the opposite of anger, each of their two poles represents conflicting extremes of one process. In a different perspective, emotions such as romantic love and anger stem from distinct processes that restrain each other. Apart from that, circumstances that stimulate a certain polar emotion do not stimulate opposite emotions. Given this scenario, if stimuli that stimulate anger are added to a joyful stimulus, the contrast between romantic love and joy would be visible. This is the point that past studies missed and this research will address the issue in order to come up with sound conclusions about whether romantic love is indeed a basic emotion or not (Rusbult, 2009).


From the preceding information, it is clear that romantic love deserves to get more attention from basic emotions theorists than it has been the case so far. In spite of the fact that romantic love is high on the list of people’s daily interactions as a basic emotion, it has not yet been included in any of the official contemporary lists of basic emotions. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that longer lasting dispositional and relational forms as well as momentary surges characterize romantic love. However, these surges need to be re-evaluated because they are likely to qualify as one or even more basic emotions. Up to today, no empirical research has been done to verify this fact; hence, the need for more research on this subject matter to make concrete conclusions on whether romantic love is a basic emotion or not.


Allen, K. Calysin D.A., (2007). A Study of the interpersonal behaviours of batters. Journal of interpersonal violence.
Bookwala, J. & Crote, N.K. (2009). Love, Aggression and satisfaction in dating relations. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Ekman, I?, Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (2011). What emotion categories or dimensions can observers judge from facial behaviour? In P. Ekman (Ed.), Emotion in the human face (pp. 39-55). New York Cambridge University Press.
Robin, Z., (2010). The measurement of romantic love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16,265-273.
Rusbult, C.E., Johnson, D. (2009).Predicting Satisfaction and commitment in Adult romantic involvements: An assessment of the generalizability of the investment model. Social Psychology Quarterly,49, 81-89.
Shaver, P. & Shwartz, J., (2008). Emotion knowledge; Further exploration of a prototype approach.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.53, 1072-1098.

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