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The Evolutionary Theory of Love: Definition, Examples & Predictions

  • 0:05 Evolutionary Theory
  • 1:48 Predictions of Attraction
  • 3:12 Predictions of…
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
In this lesson, we define and discuss evolutionary psychology's theory of love. We also examine the theory's predictions when it comes to differences between a male and female's motivation behind attraction, promiscuity, and jealousy.

Evolutionary Theory

Imagine that first time when Cinderella and Prince Charming caught sight of each other. According to the popular version of the fairy tale, they fell instantly in love and had the night of their lives dancing together. Fast forward past the spell-breaking and interference from the stepmother and our lovers were married and lived happily ever after.

But what actually made them fall in love? Was it fate? Did heart recognize heart? Or was it just physical? Maybe Cinderella and Prince Charming fell victim to simple biological urges that made them want to procreate. This may seem crude; after all, we have control over our biological urges and won't love someone just because that person will help us have more babies, right? Well, according to evolutionary psychology, that's exactly why we love someone.

The evolutionary theory of love proposes that love functions to attract and retain a mate for the purpose of reproducing and then caring for the resulting offspring. In other words, our ultimate goal is successful reproduction, and the feeling of romantic love that we experience is merely a tool to help us reach that goal. Love connects us with another person in order to increase our chances to successfully have and raise children.

Additionally, this theory proposes that although we have the same ultimate goal, males and females have different reasons for choosing a particular mate. It predicts differences in behavior regarding attraction, promiscuity, and jealousy.

Predictions of Attraction

We've previously discussed the figures that are considered the most attractive by both men and women. Men desire a woman with an hourglass shape, which represents the peak of health and fertility, while women desire a man with a 'V' shape, which represents strength and dominance. Again, evolutionary psychology suggests that we are basically slaves to our biological urges - that our connections with the opposite gender are all about preserving life and ensuring the continued existence of our species. Therefore, men are attracted to women who can produce the most offspring, and women are attracted to men who have the resources to best care for that offspring.

For example, this theory suggests that Cinderella would have been attracted to Prince Charming because he would have invoked feelings of safety and security. He was not only handsome but had resources, such as wealth, that would provide her and potential offspring with a better life. As for Prince Charming being attracted to Cinderella, it would have been simply because she was the most beautiful; she had a youthful, fertile look about her that suggests she would be an excellent vehicle to produce heirs.

Predictions of Promiscuity and Jealousy

Beyond attractiveness that draws two people together, what does evolutionary theory predict will happen once a couple actually commits to a relationship? It may seem that because the theory suggests that two people love each other for simple reproductive reasons, it wouldn't matter if either partner cheated. With no intense, emotional love as we know it what would be the harm?

Well, according to the theory, promiscuity is good, even preferable, for a man because it increases his chances to produce offspring by spreading his seed. It may also be good for a woman because it increases her resources, making it easier to protect and care for the offspring. At the same time, though, both partners would still be jealous of the other's promiscuity. The interesting thing is that the jealousy will be for different reasons.

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