Two-factor theory of love: "People experiencing strong physical arousal may sometimes misinterpret that arousal as love"
Definition from Research in Psychology: Methods and Design by Goodwin
The two-factor theory of love is derived from a broader two-factor theory of emotion, proposed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer in 1962. In short, Schachter and Singer found that if a subject has an unexplained state of arousal, they will use cues in the environment to label the emotional state they are in.
Based on this, psychologists Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron proceeded to study the two-factor theory in terms of romantic attraction. They ran a field experiment on two bridges over a river in British Columbia - one, a solid wooden bridge 10 feet above the river, while the other, a suspension bridge 230 feet above the river. In both settings, attractive female confederates approached male subjects and prompted them for help on a psychology project. Afterward, the men were given the attractive woman's phone number in case they had any further questions.
The researchers found that males on the suspension bridge (who presumably felt more anxious and aroused) were eight times as likely to call the female experimenter, compared to those on the sturdy bridge. Because Dutton and Aron saw potential alternative explanations for this result, they replicated the experiment in the laboratory. This time, they manipulated arousal levels by leading participants to believe they were either going to receive a strong electrical shock or a mild one.
In the laboratory experiment, Dutton and Aron saw similar results - those warned of strong electrical shock reported being more physically attracted to the female experimenter than those who anticipated mild shock. Thus, the researchers concluded that males could misinterpret feelings of anxiety for physical attraction.
So if you get struck by cupid this Valentines Day, remember - it might just be anxiety.
- Dutton, D. G. and Aron, A. P. Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", 30, 510–517.
- Goodwin, C. J. (2009). Research in Psychology: Methods and Design. John Wiley & Sons. p. 86-87.
- Malakh-Pines, A. (2005). Falling in love: Why we choose the lovers we choose. CRC Press. p. 14-17.
- Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State. Psychological Review, 69, pp. 379–399.