The nature of love
underlying the formation of affectional responses and little about the mechanisms through
which the love of the infant for the mother develops into the multifaceted response patterns
characterizing love or affection in the adult. Because of the dearth of experimentation, theories
about the fundamental nature of affection have evolved at the level of observation, intuition,
and discerning guesswork, whether these have been proposed by psychologists, sociologists,
anthropologists, physicians, or psychoanalysts.
The position commonly held by psychologists and sociologists is quite clear: The basic motives
are, for the most part, the primary drives -- particularly hunger, thirst, elimination, pain, and sex
-- and all other motives, including love or affection, are derived or secondary drives. The mother
is associated with the reduction of the primary drives -- particularly hunger, thirst, and pain --
and through learning, affection or love is derived.
It is entirely reasonable to believe that the mother through association with food may become a
secondary-reinforcing agent, but this is an inadequate mechanism to account for the
persistence of the infant-maternal ties. There is a spate of researches on the formation of
secondary reinforcers to hunger and thirst reduction. There can be no question that almost any
external stimulus can become a secondary reinforcer if properly associated with tissue-need
reduction, but the fact remains that this redundant literature demonstrates unequivocally that
such derived drives suffer relatively rapid experimental extinction. Contrariwise, human
affection does not extinguish when the mother ceases to have intimate association with the
drives in question. Instead, the affectional ties to the mother show a lifelong, unrelenting
persistence and, even more surprising, widely expanding generality.
Oddly enough, one of the few psychologists who took a position counter to modern
psychological dogma was John B. Watson, who believed that love was an innate emotion
elicited by cutaneous stimulation of the erogenous zones. But experimental psychologists, with
their peculiar propensity to discover facts that are not true, brushed this theory aside by
demonstrating that the human neonate had no differentiable emotions, and they established a
fundamental psychological law that prophets are without honor in their own profession.
The psychoanalysts have concerned themselves with the problem of the nature of the
development of love in the neonate and infant, using ill and aging human beings as subjects.
They have discovered the overwhelming importance of the breast and related this to the oral
erotic tendencies developed at an age preceding their subjects' memories. Their theories range
from a belief that the infant has an innate need to achieve and suckle at the breast to beliefs
not unlike commonly accepted psychological theories. There are exceptions, as seen in the
recent writings of John Bowlby, who attributes importance not only to food and thirst
satisfaction, but also to "primary object-clinging," a need for intimate physical contact, which is
initially associated with the mother.
As far as I know, there exists no direct experimental analysis of the relative importance of the
stimulus variables determining the affectional or love responses in the neonatal and infant
primate. Unfortunately, the human neonate is a limited experimental subject for such
researches because of his inadequate motor capabilities. By the time the human infant's motor
responses can be precisely measured, the antecedent determining conditions cannot be
defined, having been lost in a jumble and jungle of confounded variables.
Many of these difficulties can be resolved by the use of the neonatal and infant macaque
monkey as the subject for the analysis of basic affectional variables. It is possible to make
precise measurements in this primate beginning at two to ten days of age, depending upon the
maturational status of the individual animal at birth. The macaque infant differs from the human
infant in that the monkey is more mature at birth and grows more rapidly; but the basic
responses relating to affection, including nursing, contact, clinging, and even visual and
auditory exploration, exhibit no fundamental differences in the two species. Even the
development of perception, fear, frustration, and learning capability follows very similar
sequences in rhesus monkeys and human children.