Commitment and Love

Commitment and love

Humans pursue a mix of mating strategies. Some highly desirable men can and do engage in a multiple-female mating strategy, either through maintaining simultaneous affairs with several women (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000) or through serial remating of progressively younger women—effectively dominating the reproductive careers of many females (Buss, 2003). Men who are less able to pursue such strategies can still gain fitness advantages by committing to an exclusive long-term partnership and investing heavily in each child, thus ensuring greater offspring survival, health, and success in adulthood (Hurtado & Hill, 1992; Marlowe, 2003; also see Gangestad & Simpson, 2000).Women also engage in mixed mating strategies (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000), though most evidence suggests that they have a stronger preference for long-term partnerships than short-term affairs (Buss, 2003).Although the optimal mating strategy for every ancestral human was not the same, many (perhaps the majority) would have benefited from the exclusive coupling, at least at some point in their lives (Pillsworth & Haselton, 2005). Given the temptation of romantic alternatives and humans’ proclivity to overweight short-term temptations, Frank (1988; also see above) hypothesized that the emotion of love serves as a commitment device. Just as feelings of guilt evoked while considering cheating can deter romantic defection, feelings of love while contemplating one’s mate can compel the individual to stay committed (Ketelaar & Goodie, 1998). Indeed, people in love seem to believe that there is no one more desirable than their own partner and they recurrently experience pleasant feelings toward their partner that may counteract the temptation to pursue alternative mating opportunities.If love is a commitment device, as Frank proposed, it should suspend or suppress mate search. Along these lines, Gonzaga and colleagues (Gonzaga, Haselton, Smurda, Davies, & Poore, 2005) predicted that inductions of feelings of love should cause attractive alternatives to being less tempting. They further hypothesized that a closely related emotion, sexual desire, which is theoretically not a commitment device (e.g., Fisher, Aron, Mashek, Li, & Brown, 2002), would not yield the same effect. To test the hypothesis they made use of a subtle psychological phenomenon, thought suppression. Numerous studies have shown that when people attempt to suppress exciting thoughts they experience a paradoxical surge of the thoughts (the rebound effect) as compared to individuals who do not attempt to suppress those thoughts (e.g., Wegner, Schneider, Carter, & White, 1987; also see Wegner, Shortt, Blake, & Page, 1990). It follows that if love acts as a commitment device, this emotion may facilitate the suppression of thoughts of romantic alternatives, and thereby reduce or eliminate the rebound effect. To test this hypothesis, Gonzaga and colleagues asked participants to either suppress or express the thought of an attractive other while writing essays about experiences of intense love or sexual desire for their current romantic partner.
Consistent with their evolutionary hypothesis, after attempting to suppress the thought of the attractive other and relative to the sexual desire condition, participants in the love condition had fewer thoughts of the attractive other, indicating successful suppression of thoughts of the attractive other
(Wegner & Gold, 1995)these results provide support for the commitment theory of emotion and they suggest that discrete emotions have discrete effects—although love and desire were both elicited in reference to participants’ romantic partner, only love facilitated suppression of thoughts of attractive others.

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