Defining Love In The Context Of Media
I was recently invited to talk about the emotion of Love and how it might be relevant in the context of media effects at an academic conference. Unfortunately, I couldn’t deliver my talk. But, having prepared my talk already, I thought’ I’d share some of my thoughts with you here.
To think about love as an emotion, I want us to consider the following question:
When we look at us at the present moment, we should see a fully (more or less well) functioning adult. We can sustain ourselves, contribute to society, communicate and do what adults do every day. But what brought us here? What were the necessary factors that turned us into these functional adults?
You may say Food and shelter but what else?
Exactly: Love. Love in the form of caring. Without any form of caring, we wouldn’t have received shelter or food from our caretakers in the first place. It seems that some form of “love” is necessary to sustain and raise life.
As a human species we care for our offspring, we care for our friends and even strangers and that caring seems to be something that is innate. We are born to care and it can be argued that this caring arises out of an innate ability to experience love. Experiences of love are the innate driver that keeps us looking for relationships and connections with others and it is necessary to sustain life.
While research has defined many different styles of love, for example passionate love, friendship love, dependent love, agape love, logical love (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986), the actual feeling of love in the moment, as indicated on a physiological level, comes about through micro moments of love, or as Fredrickson calls it, micro moments of positivity resonance, which includes 3 things:
1) a sharing of one or more positive emotion between you and another person,
2) a synchronicity between you and the other persons biochemistry and behaviors,
3) a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings about mutual care.
So in a moment of “love” you each become the reflection and extension of the other. Love can provide a sense of oneness and connection and transcendence that makes you feel part of something larger than yourself. As such, love is a self-transcendent emotion with many positive impacts on well-being.
Now, according to Fredrickson, these micro moments of love can only be experienced face to face in direct contact with another person.
Does it mean that nowadays, that we spend over 11 hours with media, and are glued to our smartphones 24/7, we miss out on micro moments of love?
I think there are two ways to investigate the concept of love within the context of media:
1. Kama Muta Experiences From Media Portrayals
One is that we can feel moved by love, which is what Fiske et al (2004) have termed as the experience of “kama muta” (A Sanskrit term that meaning feeling moved by love). We can experience kama muta if someone expresses love toward us in forms of kindness, joy and gratitude displays, or we can experience it by witnessing others, for example media characters, expressing love for each other.
Generally, as Fiske, Schubert and Seibt (2016) show, kama muta is elicited by an intensification of communal sharing relations as described in the Relational Models Theory (Fiske, 2004). For example, it is the poignant stretching of your heart that you feel when you observe (or experience first hand) a mother gazing into a newborns eye for the first time; the sharing of a farewell or welcome hug with a dear friend; a puppy kitten jumping into somebody’s lap, settling in for a comfortable nap.
The list of kama muta elicitors is long and can entail the intensification of communal sharing relations with human and non-human entities, such as nature or God. I argue that these are love experiences that we can derive from media exposure.
2. Positivity Resonance From Mobile Communication
The second avenue to investigate love within the context of media is by exploring Fredrickson’s concept of positivity resonance moments within the context of social media and mediated communication.
Many of you might have had the experience where you thought about a specific person and promptly received a call or text from that person. These moments identify the three components Fredrickson outlined for her positivity resonance model of love including: the sharing of positive emotion between two people, (bio behavioral) synchrony between two people (even though it may be less bio behavioral but rather quantum mechanical), and mutual care.
Research suggests that texting within romantic relationships impacts the relationship quality positively (Schade et al., 2013; Ohadi, Brown & Trub, 2018). So I wonder: Can micro moments of love be experienced in similar ways online (via texts, wall posts, shared snapchats, facetime), as they are experienced offline?
It is clear that love is probably the most often talked about and portrayed emotion within the media landscape.
May it be songs about love (may it be un-reciprocated, reciprocated, denied, equal or unequal love), movies that include a plotline of romantic love even though the genre may be adventure, action or drama, books about and off love and of course not to forget, love apps.
These examples support the notion for Love having an innate function that not only helps to perpetuate the human species but also illuminates our concern as a species to foster, find and experience love on a continuous basis. And media can be one avenue to find it.
With that, I hope media psychologists will start exploring this complex emotion and the role media plays in fostering it in more detail. After all: All you need is love, right?