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The nature of love

The Nature of Love
Harry F. Harlow (1958)[1]
Classics in the History of Psychology
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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3173
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The Nature of Love
Harry F. Harlow (1958)[1]
University of Wisconsin
Posted March 2000
Address of the President at the sixty-sixth Annual Convention of the
American Psychological Association, Washington, D. C., August 31, 1958.
First published in American Psychologist, 13, 573-685.
Love is a wondrous state, deep, tender, and rewarding. Because of its intimate and personal
nature it is regarded by some as an improper topic for experimental research. But, whatever
our personal feelings may be, our assigned mission as psychologists is to analyze all facets of
human and animal behavior into their component variables. So far as love or affection is
concerned, psychologists have failed in this mission. The little we know about love does not
transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets
and novelists. But of greater concern is the fact that psychologists tend to give progressively
less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives. Psychologists, at least psychologists
who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or
affection, but they seem to be unaware of its very existence.
The apparent repression of love by modem psychologists stands in sharp contrast with the
attitude taken by many famous and normal people. The word "love" has the highest reference
frequency of any word cited in Bartlett's book of Familiar Quotations. It would appear that this
emotion has long had a vast interest and fascination for human beings, regardless of the
attitude taken by psychologists; but the quotations cited, even by famous and normal people,
have a mundane redundancy. These authors and authorities have stolen love from the child
and infant and made it the exclusive property of the adolescent and adult.
Thoughtful men, and probably all women, have speculated on the nature of love. From the
developmental point of view, the general plan is quite clear: The initial love responses of the
human being are those made by the infant to the mother or some mother surrogate. From this
intimate attachment of the child to the mother, multiple learned and generalized affectional
responses are formed.
Unfortunately, beyond these simple facts we know little about the fundamental variables
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