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Love in science & economics

I posted quite a while back on my conflicted view of the science of love (or “affection”) as it was developed by Harry Harlow. Harlow established what we would widely taken as obvious today that humans and particularly children need “love” to function well – that was not obvious 50 years ago.  The idea of “love” was treated as an unscientific perhaps poetic idea. Yound boys who were coddled were likely to be turned into “sooks”. Harlow’s experiments with animals were cruel and disturbing but he did establish a science of “love”.

This piece by Heidi Waltos does not refer to Harlow’s work but makes specific observations about links between physical and mental health and the ability to love from the viewpoint of psychiatry. It is worth a read. The suggestion is utilitarian – invest in ‘love’ and be rewarded even if the love is unrequited.

Economists have examined the implications of love either as a way of accommodating sexual and financial wants or, more interestingly, as a form of altruism. From the latter perspective concern for others is viewed neutrally as a type of specific taste. I have not seen altruism treated as a form of investment in human emotional and health capital that almost can amount to a form of predation.

3 comments to Love in science & economics

  • conrad

    It’s hard to think of worse theories than the standard economics theories that are used to explain altruism (you need to delete the idea of rationality and delete the word reciprocal before you’ll get anywhere in terms of theories making the correct predictions — which basically means you are not doing economics anymore nor are you in any frameworks which economics will accomodate, so you might want to give that the one the miss. If you’re interested I can send you some really good papers on it — there is a really good recent one that reviews some of the major theories in different areas and then tests them.

  • hc

    I’d be interested in seeing that. Do you have a link?

  • conrad

    The first chunk of that article goes through some of the main theoretical positions, and the second half looks at whether they can predict grandparent behavior. It’s a great article (there are also commentaries if you are interested). There’s a lot of stuff going on looking at altruism in really young children also, although like most develpmental research, it isn’t as theoretically consolidated as well as the adult stuff (basically, the argument goes that if you can find altruistic acts (cf. reciprocal cooperation) in really young kids, e.g., 2 year olds, then that starts to provide evidence that we act altruistically for reasons not to do with our own direct benefit.

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