Monday, April 12, 2021

Related to phylogeny, we summarize theories of romantic love’s evolutionary history & show that romantic love probably evolved in concert with pair-bonds in our recent ancestors

Proximate and Ultimate Perspectives on Romantic Love. Adam Bode and Geoff Kushnick. Front. Psychol., April 12 2021.

Abstract: Romantic love is a phenomenon of immense interest to the general public as well as to scholars in several disciplines. It is known to be present in almost all human societies and has been studied from a number of perspectives. In this integrative review, we bring together what is known about romantic love using Tinbergen’s “four questions” framework originating from evolutionary biology. Under the first question, related to mechanisms, we show that it is caused by social, psychological mate choice, genetic, neural, and endocrine mechanisms. The mechanisms regulating psychopathology, cognitive biases, and animal models provide further insights into the mechanisms that regulate romantic love. Under the second question, related to development, we show that romantic love exists across the human lifespan in both sexes. We summarize what is known about its development and the internal and external factors that influence it. We consider cross-cultural perspectives and raise the issue of evolutionary mismatch. Under the third question, related to function, we discuss the fitness-relevant benefits and costs of romantic love with reference to mate choice, courtship, sex, and pair-bonding. We outline three possible selective pressures and contend that romantic love is a suite of adaptions and by-products. Under the fourth question, related to phylogeny, we summarize theories of romantic love’s evolutionary history and show that romantic love probably evolved in concert with pair-bonds in our recent ancestors. We describe the mammalian antecedents to romantic love and the contribution of genes and culture to the expression of modern romantic love. We advance four potential scenarios for the evolution of romantic love. We conclude by summarizing what Tinbergen’s four questions tell us, highlighting outstanding questions as avenues of potential future research, and suggesting a novel ethologically informed working definition to accommodate the multi-faceted understanding of romantic love advanced in this review.


Romantic love is a complex and multifaceted aspect of human biology and psychology. Our approach in this review has been to highlight how Tinbergen’s (1963) “four questions” can help us to synthesize the important strands related to the mechanisms, development, fitness-relevant functions, and evolutionary history of this phenomenon. Here, we synthesize what this review has presented in each level of explanation and suggest what this indicates about other levels of explanation. We then highlight some gaps in our knowledge that could be filled with future research and present a new ethologically informed working definition of romantic love.

What Do Tinbergen’s Four Questions Tell Us?

One of the benefits of using Tinbergen’s four questions as a framework to describe a complex trait such as romantic love is its ability for one level of explanation to provide insights into the other level of explanation (see Tinbergen, 1963Bateson and Laland, 2013Zietsch et al., 2020). In particular, an understanding of the proximate causes of romantic love has provided insights into the functions and phylogeny of romantic love although an understanding of the ultimate level of explanation provides some insights into the mechanisms of romantic love.

Multiple mechanistic systems involved in romantic love suggests it may serve multiple functions and may be a suite of adaptations and by-products rather than a single adaptation. We found that romantic love is associated with activity in a number of neural systems: reward and motivation, emotions, sexual desire and arousal, and social cognition. It is also associated with activity in higher-order cortical brain areas that are involved in attention, memory, mental associations, and self-representation. We also found that romantic love is associated with a number of endocrine systems: sex hormones, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, cortisol, and nerve growth factor. This is consistent with our position that romantic love serves mate choice, courtship, sex, and pair-bonding functions. Reward and motivation system activity may be particularly involved in the mate choice function of romantic love. Cortisol may be particularly indicative of the courtship function of romantic love, which overlaps with pair-bonding. Neural areas associated with sexual desire and arousal and the activity of sex hormones may play a particular role in the sex function. Finally, reward and motivation regions of the brain (rich with oxytocin receptors) and activity of the oxytocin system may play a particular role in the pair-bonding function of romantic love. Our understanding of the biological mechanisms that cause romantic love supports our description of romantic love’s functions.

Mechanistic similarities between romantic love and mother-infant bonding suggest that romantic love may have evolved by co-opting mother-infant bonding mechanisms. This articulates one hypothesis about the evolutionary history of romantic love that complements the predominate theory of independent emotion systems (Fisher, 19982000Fisher et al., 2002). This is supported by the psychological similarities between romantic love and early parental love.

Evidence of substantial activity of oxytocin receptor rich brain regions and the oxytocin endocrine system in romantic love lends weight to the position that romantic love only evolved after the neural circuitry associated with mate choice, specifically, regions of the mesolimbic reward pathway and dopamine rich areas, became populated by oxytocin receptors specifically receptive to stimuli from mating partners. That played a role in the evolution of enduring social attraction and pair-bond formation (Numan and Young, 2016). This supports our claim that romantic love probably evolved in conjunction with pair-bonds in humans. As a result, we are bolstered when we contend that romantic love emerged relatively recently in the history of humans.

The duration of romantic love also raises questions about the functions of romantic love. It has been said that the psychological features of romantic love can last from 18 months to 3 years in reciprocated romantic love. However, in our evolutionary history, romantic love would have usually occurred in the context of pregnancy and child birth. Mother-infant bonding becomes active around the time of childbirth. We are not aware of any research that has investigated whether romantic love can occur at the same time as mother-infant bonding or whether it must subside for mother-infant bonding to become active. Answering this question would elucidate if the functions of romantic love extinguish once reproduction has been successful. The existence of long-term romantic love also raises questions about the functions of romantic love. It has been posited that long-term romantic love is “part of a broad mammalian strategy for reproduction and long-term attachment” (Acevedo et al., 2020, p. 1). This may indicate that long-term romantic love serves similar functions to romantic love that lasts a shorter period of time.

Just as the multiple biological mechanisms involved in romantic love suggests a variety of functions, the functions of romantic love specified in our review suggests specific biological mechanisms are involved. As outlined above, specific functions may be associated with specific mechanisms and this should be an area of targeted research.

The possibility of romantic love evolving by co-opting mother-infant bonding mechanisms raises a number of possibilities in relation to the proximate causes of romantic love. It suggests that social activity associated with mother–infant bonding (e.g., filling of needs, specific cues) may be particularly important precursors to, or features of, romantic love. It suggests that many of the genes and polymorphisms involved in causing romantic love may have been present in mammals since the emergence of mother–infant bonding, making comparative animal research using mammals relevant. It also suggests that further research into shared neural activity between romantic love and mother–infant bonding is warranted.

We contend that romantic love probably emerged in conjunction with pair-bonds in humans or human ancestors. As such, further information about the similarities and differences between romantic love (pair-bonding) and companionate love (established pair-bonds) is needed. In particular, information about any role of the mesolimbic pathway (see Loth and Donaldson, 2021) or regions associated with sexual desire in companionate love would help to shed light on the evolutionary history of pair-bonding and pair-bonds. Specifically, this could shed light on if, as has been suggested (see Walum and Young, 2018), romantic love and pair-bonds are inextricably linked.

Areas of Future Research

One issue with research into the mechanisms of romantic love is that it has, with some exceptions (e.g., Fisher et al., 2010), utilized samples of people experiencing romantic love who are in a relationship with their loved one. Romantic love serves a mate choice and courtship function, and as a result, a large proportion of people experiencing romantic love are not in a relationship with their loved one (e.g., Bringle et al., 2013). A small number of studies have directly investigated unrequited love (e.g., Tennov, 1979Baumeister et al., 1993Hill et al., 1997Aron et al., 1998Bringle et al., 2013), but none of these investigated the mechanisms that cause romantic love. Studying such people might identify the specific contributions of particular mechanisms to particular functions. For example, the mechanisms associated with the pair-bonding function of romantic love may not be active in individuals who are engaging in courtship and the mechanisms involved in courtship may not be present in lovers who are already in a relationship with their loved one. Research would benefit from considering the mechanisms that underlie related psychopathologies and it would be useful to understand the relationship between mate preferences and romantic love.

Molecular genetics research, such as that undertaken by Acevedo et al. (2020), could further identify contributions of genes in people experiencing romantic love. Resting state fMRI provide an opportunity to investigate networks characteristic of psychopathology related to romantic love. Research should investigate the automatic/internal emotional regulatory network and the volitional/external regulatory network associated with mania/hypomania in people experiencing romantic love. Further research is required into the endocrinology of romantic love. In particular, further research is needed into the role of opioids, corticotropin-releasing factor, glutamate, acetylcholine, and vasopressin in romantic love. Efforts should be made to combine psychological and mechanisms research. For example, differences in neural or endocrine activity may be present in people experiencing romantic love who display elevated symptoms of depression compared to those who display reduced symptoms. As a result, neuroimaging and endocrinological studies could categorize people experiencing romantic love according to their levels of depression or type of hypomanic symptoms.

Given the large number of fMRI studies, interpreting the neuroimaging literature can be overwhelming. It has been nearly 10 years since the last meta-analysis of fMRI studies including romantic love. It is time for another one that focuses solely on romantic love. There is also a pressing need to attempt to replicate and extend endocrine studies and to specifically investigate the oxytocin system in people experiencing romantic love using validated measures of romantic love. As with many areas of psychological research (Henrich et al., 2010), and specifically in areas related to mating psychology (Apicella et al., 2019Scelza et al., 2020), there is a pressing need to ensure that samples used in research are not exclusively Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.

Limited ontogeny research has elucidated the mechanisms causing romantic love across the lifespan. The literature that has (e.g., Luoto, 2019a), has focused on mate choice, rather than romantic love, per se. We know nothing about the neurobiology or endocrinology of romantic love in children or about the endocrinology of long-term romantic love. It would be useful to investigate how the functions of romantic love differ according to age of individuals or the duration of romantic love. Internal and external factors influence romantic love, although there has been surprisingly little research into this topic. It would be prudent to continue to develop a more detailed understanding of the factors that lead to romantic love (e.g., Riela et al., 20102017). It would be useful to better understand the relationship between attachment styles and romantic love. Research should investigate if romantic love can occur at the same time as mother-infant bonding, or if they are mutually exclusive states.

Research into the functions of romantic love is sparse. There is a need for clear, evidence-informed definitions and descriptions of each of the functions of romantic love. It is likely that different mechanisms moderate different functions, and research should attempt to determine the contribution of specific genetic, neural, and endocrine activity to each individual function (see Zietsch et al., 2020). The advent of contraception and the adoption of family planning strategies means romantic love now serves more of a sex function than a pregnancy function in some environments. This is particularly the case early in a relationship. Pregnancy may become a feature as a relationship progresses and the fitness consequences of romantic love need to be investigated. Romantic love’s role as a suite of adaptations and by-products should be investigated. There is theoretical support for the notion that romantic love serves a health-promoting function (e.g., Esch and Stefano, 2005); however, there is a limited number of studies demonstrating a health-promoting effect of romantic love.

The relative infancy of genetic research, the lack of a clear fossil record, and the small number of species with which comparative analysis can be undertaken, means novel and creative means of investigating the phylogeny of romantic love must be undertaken. There is a need to pin-point the phylogenetic emergence of romantic love and the factors that caused it. To do this, more research into the genetics of romantic love must be conducted, and this should consider the phylogeny of specific genes and polymorphisms (e.g., Acevedo et al., 2020; see also Walum and Young, 2018). Efforts to assess the contribution of sexual selection to the evolution of romantic love are warranted. Studies of newly discovered fossils can help to identify shifts in sexual dimorphism that are indicative of pair-bonds. Further observational and experimental research into romantic love in hunter-gatherer tribes could tell us more about how romantic love functioned in our evolutionary history. Comparative research still has much to contribute. Research should explore the possibility that initial changes to the ancestral mammalian physiology that led directly to human romantic love arose in response to selection on both mating and non-mating-related behavior, such as pro-sociality (e.g., Barron and Hare, 2020Luoto, 2020) or unique aspects of our species’ parenting repertoire. It might be fruitful to further investigate the relationship between romantic love and life history theory (e.g., Olderbak and Figueredo, 2009Marzec and Łukasik, 2017). Finally, efforts should be made to elaborate and test the theory that romantic love emerged by co-opting mother–infant bonding mechanisms.

A New Working Definition of Romantic Love

The introduction to this review provided four definitions or descriptions of romantic love. For decades, most definitions (Hendrick and Hendrick, 1986Sternberg, 1986Hatfield and Rapson, 1993) of romantic love have informed research into the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics of romantic love. The past two decades, however, have seen an increasing focus on the biology of romantic love. Only recently has an evolution-informed definition been proposed (Fletcher et al., 2015). That working definition, however, does not incorporate much of the research that provides insight into the proximate and ultimate causes of romantic love.

We believe that the analytical approach taken in this review has identified sufficient information to justify the development of a new ethologically informed working definition of romantic love. The purpose would be to create an inclusive definition that is useful for researchers in varied disciplines investigating romantic love’s psychological characteristics, genetics, neurobiology, endocrinology, development, fitness-relevant functions, and evolutionary history. It may also be of use to psychologists and psychiatrists attempting to understand the experience and etiology of romantic love in their practice. It should be sufficiently precise and descriptive to both guide and link research. We provide, here, a working definition of romantic love:

Romantic love is a motivational state typically associated with a desire for long-term mating with a particular individual. It occurs across the lifespan and is associated with distinctive cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social, genetic, neural, and endocrine activity in both sexes. Throughout much of the life course, it serves mate choice, courtship, sex, and pair-bonding functions. It is a suite of adaptations and by-products that arose sometime during the recent evolutionary history of humans.

We situate the study of romantic love within the context of existing human mating literature. Our definition recognizes that romantic love is experienced across the lifetime of an individual, that research has shed light on the social, psychological, genetic, neural, and endocrine characteristics associated with it, and that it occurs in both sexes. Our definition also recognizes that romantic love serves a variety of functions and that these functions may vary across the lifespan. It does not exclude long-term or unrequited romantic love from the definition. Health is not identified as a function of romantic love in our definition despite being considered in our review. If more evidence comes to light, this definition can be amended to incorporate health.

Our definition has similarities and differences with the definition proposed by Fletcher et al. (2015). This is appropriate given both are informed by evolutionary approaches which differ somewhat. We do not specifically define romantic love as being a commitment device or reference passion, intimacy, and caregiving. In our review, we recognize that romantic love is a commitment device and serves to display commitment and signal fidelity as part of its courtship function. We believe that reference to romantic love’s behavioral activity and courtship and pair-bonding functions sufficiently encapsulate this concept. Sternberg’s (1997) definition of romantic love and Fletcher et al.’s (2015) definition include references to passion and intimacy. Caregiving (e.g., provision of psychological and emotional resources, sharing resources), while associated with pair-bonding, is not sufficiently definitive of romantic love using Tinbergen’s four questions as a framework to include in our definition.

We do not reference the universality of romantic love. While some experts assert its universality (e.g., Fletcher et al., 2015Buss, 2019), we believe that the finding of Jankowiak and Fischer (1992) leaves enough uncertainty for it to be prudent to omit this aspect from our definition. Their research has found no evidence of romantic love in fifteen cultures (see Jankowiak and Paladino, 2008, for update to the original investigation) although this is probably the result of lack of data rather than evidence to the contrary. Once this matter is settled, which could be achieved by further investigating those societies where no evidence of romantic love was found, the definition can be amended. Fletcher et al. (2015) state that romantic love is associated with pair-bonds. We do the same by stating that pair-bonding is one of the functions of romantic love.

We also do not make specific reference to romantic love suppressing the search for mates. We recognize this as a cost in our review, but do not believe that this is so definitive of romantic love to include in our definition. Rather, we believe that our reference to “behavioral” activity and the “mate choice” function of romantic love in our definition sufficiently accommodates this feature. Our definition provides more detail than that provided by Fletcher et al. (2015) by including elements derived from substantial research into the mechanisms, ontogeny, functions, and phylogeny of romantic love. Like the Fletcher et al. (2015) definition, our definition recognizes that romantic love has distinct psychological characteristics and that we know about some of the proximate mechanisms that regulate it. However, as explained above, we do not include reference to the health-promoting effects of romantic love.

As more information about romantic love is gathered, we anticipate the definition to develop. However, we believe that this definition is an improvement upon previous definitions and adequately captures what is currently known about romantic love’s proximate and ultimate causes. It would be useful for researchers investigating romantic love from myriad perspectives. This definition should be critiqued and improved, and we welcome any such efforts from researchers and theorists across the spectrum of academic disciplines.

Politically misaligned bureaucrats incur in greater cost overruns, are generally less motivated, & are perceived as less loyal to their missions

Ideology and Performance in Public Organizations. Jorg L. Spenkuch, Edoardo Teso & Guo Xu. NBER Working Paper 28673, April 2021. DOI 10.3386/w28673

Abstract: We combine personnel records of the United States federal bureaucracy from 1997-2019 with administrative voter registration data to study how ideological alignment between politicians and bureaucrats affects the personnel policies and performance of public organizations. We present four results. (i) Consistent with the use of the spoils system to align ideology at the highest levels of government, we document significant partisan cycles and substantial turnover among political appointees. (ii) By contrast, we find virtually no political cycles in the civil service. The lower levels of the federal government resemble a "Weberian" bureaucracy that appears to be largely protected from political interference. (iii) Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants. Overrepresentation of Democrats increases with seniority, with the difference in career progression being largely explained by positive selection on observables. (iv) Political misalignment carries a sizeable performance penalty. Exploiting presidential transitions as a source of "within-bureaucrat" variation in the political alignment of procurement officers over time, we find that contracts overseen by a misaligned officer exhibit cost overruns that are, on average, 8% higher than the mean overrun. We provide evidence that is consistent with a general "morale effect," whereby misaligned bureaucrats are less motivated.


Panel A of Figure 7 shows that the overrepresentation of Democrats increases as we move up the hierarchy. Among employees in grades 1-12 of the GS, we find about 50% of Democrats (30% of Republicans and 20% of independents), which rises to approximately 56% at the top of the GS (grades 13-15), and to 63% among career SES.34 Intriguingly, this finding appears to be driven in large part by selection on observables.  First, Democrats have, on average, higher levels of human capital than Republicans. In Table 4, we report estimates from regressing indicators for educational attainment on a bureaucrat's political affliation. In order to measure education at entry, we restrict the sample to the first quarter in which the employee is observed.35 According to our results, Democrats are 6.6 p.p. more likely than Republicans to hold a college degree (column 1), and 8.3 p.p. more likely to have some form of post-graduate education (column 4). We continue to observe differences in human capital after controlling for bureau (columns 2 and 5) and pay-level fixed effects (columns 3 and 6)|although the gap between Democrats and Republicans does narrow. The pattern of coefficients in Table 4, therefore, suggests that higher human capital allows Democrats to be hired in bureaus and occupations that require more advanced skills as well as at higher steps of the hierarchy (see also Appendix Table A3).  Moreover, the fact that there do remain residual differences after accounting for bureau and pay grade implies that, even within comparable jobs, Democrat civil servants tend to be positively selected.

In addition to being positively selected at the time of hire, Democrats are more likely to be promoted after they enter the bureaucracy. In Table 5, we present estimates of partisan differences in promotions from grades 13{15 of the GS to the career SES (columns 1{3), as well as promotions from grades 1{12 of the GS to grades 13-15 (columns 4{6).36 Given that promotions are rare events at the quarterly level, all estimates in Table 5 are multiplied by 1,000. The results show that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be promoted to higher levels of the hierarchy (columns 1 and 4), with a sizeable share of the gap being attributable to differences in educational attainment and the bureaus in which they serve (columns 2{3 and 5{6).37 The second factor that helps to explain greater overrepresentation of Democrats at higher levels of the bureaucracy is their lower propensity to exit. To illustrate this, Panel A of Figure 8 plots survival curves by partisan affiliation. While about 5% of civil servants of either party exit after the first quarter, the share of those who remain within the federal government as time progresses is significantly higher for Democrats. In Panel B of Figure 8, we repeat the exercise in regression form, controlling for bureau  quarter-of-entry fixed effects. After 10 years, Democrats are about 4.5% more likely than Republicans and independents to be still employed in the civil service.

5 Conclusion

A central question in the governance of any organization is how to align the objectives of leaders with those of their subordinates. In this paper, we turn to the U.S. federal bureaucracy to study the role of mission alignment in organizations.

To this end, we combine administrative data on the near universe of federal government workers with data on all registered voters in the U.S. The resulting dataset allows us to shed some of the first light on the ideological leanings of a large number of individual civil servants, and thereby peek into the black box of \bureaucratic politics." We establish three stylized facts. First, politicians do use the limited power they have over personnel policies in order to achieve greater ideological alignment between themselves and the upper echelon of the bureaucracy. The political cycles in our data are consistent with the use of the spoils system to better align the highest layers of the bureaucracy with the goals of the president. Second, we find a remarkable degree of political insulation among career civil servants. In contrast to political appointees, we see virtually no political cycles in the civil service. Our findings, therefore, suggest that, at its lower levels, the federal government resembles a \Weberian" bureaucracy, which is largely protected from political interference. Third, Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants. In addition, we show that Democratic civil servants are especially overrepresented in higher layers of the bureaucracy. Any observed difference in career progression, however, is in large part due to selection on observables. Democratic-leaning bureaucrats have on average higher levels of educational attainment, and they are less likely to exit the civil service, which results in a greater accumulation of experience. Both of these two facts are consistent with the idea that Democrats have a higher proclivity for public service.

The existence of an impartial and politically insulated career civil service is often seen as the hallmark of good governance and a \Weberian state." While the insulation of the career civil service prevents political interference, civil servants may have their own preferences and ideological leanings, which can conflict with those of the president. As a consequence, to implement an administration's agenda, politicians and department heads often need to work with bureaucrats whose personal values are not aligned with the present mission of the organization. To shed light on the costs of such misalignment, we focus on a subset of civil servants who work across all departments of the government and for whom we can measure performance: procurement ofcers. Linking procurement contracts to the matched personnel and voter registration data allows us to study the mission-alignment of procurement ofcers across nearly all departments of the federal bureaucracy. Strikingly, we find that political misalignment increases cost overruns by 8%. We provide evidence that suggests that a general \morale effect" is an important mechanism behind this finding, whereby bureaucrats who are ideologically misaligned with the organizational mission have lower motivation. As political turnover leads to sizable mission-misalignment between politicians and civil servants, our findings provide direct evidence on the costs of political insulation of the bureaucracy, which should be traded off against the benefits of avoiding political interference. As more and more organizations embrace a mission-driven focus, our findings may have implications beyond the public sector.

From 2007... Among the married, a higher discrepancy between men's and women's number of previous intercourse partners was related to lower levels of love, satisfaction, and commitment in the relationship

From 2007... Matching in Sexual Experience for Married, Cohabitating, and Dating Couples. Luis T. Garcia & Charlotte Markey. The Journal of Sex Research, Volume 44, 2007 - Issue 3, Pages 250-255. Dec 5 2007.

Abstract: This study examined heterosexual romantic partners' number of intercourse partners prior to the initiation of their relationship to determine if a significant positive correlation (matching) occurred between partners, and if this matching was associated with their level of love and satisfaction with and commitment to the relationship. One hundred and six couples who were dating, cohabitating, or married participated in this study. Results indicated that, with the exception of cohabitating couples, romantic partners showed a significant level of matching in the prior number of intercourse partners. Further, among the married couples, a higher discrepancy between men's and women's number of previous intercourse partners was related to lower levels of love, satisfaction, and commitment in the relationship.