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Affectional systems

Deprivation studies


As a rule, “love” and “affection” are words used more or less interchangeably to designate warm, positive feelings directed to individuals; but they may encompass attachments to pets, institutions, things, activities, and ideas. Where differentiation is made, love usually implies more intense feeling than affection, or love may be restricted to feelings with a strong sexual component and affection to those supposedly free of it.

Instincts and behaviorism. Early psychologists, including William James (1890) and William McDougall (1908), recognized the existence of love as an emotion or sentiment and accepted it as instinctually based and consequently demanding little more than that its emergence and expression be observed. Sigmund Freud (1905) also approached love as a derivative of instinct, but he elevated it to a central position in his theory. This was the status of love in psychology about 1915, when instincts began to give way to the behavioristic approach and emotions became a problem for experimental study.

The laboratory investigation of love had a brief life, beginning with John B. Watson (1924–1925), who reported that three primary emotions—love, fear, and rage—were arousable in the newborn infant. Stroking or patting the lips, nipples, and genitals produced stretching, cooing, and extension of the arms, and these responses were considered to constitute love. Through care of the infant, the mother became a conditioned love stimulus, and by generalization and conditioning, the infant developed a broadened range of conditioned love stimuli. Consequently, Watson advised parents to handle infants objectively to avoid overly strong conditioning of love to themselves.

The subsequent flood of laboratory studies questioned the specificity of emotions in the neonate and concluded that it starts life with only vague emotional responses, which gradually differentiate by three months of age into general patterns similar to those reported by Watson. Delight, pleasure, and contentment replaced love for the three-month-old. Love, or affection, was ascribed to the second half of the first year, and love for parents and love for children were attributed to the second year (Bridges 1931). Further specificity evolved during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. These observations were generally accepted by experimental psychologists, and for 35 years love was absent from the laboratory and from most psychology textbooks. Meanwhile, investigations of emotion centered on the negative states of fear, anger, jealousy, and the like.

Psychoanalytic theory . Psychoanalytic theory originated before instincts came into disrepute, and Freud, persevering despite criticism, continued to develop, elaborate, and amend his theory throughout the behavioristic and into the neobehavioristic periods. Freud’s theory deals with love, or affection, by postulating the concept of the libido, first described as an all-inclusive sexual drive and, later, as a broad life force combining all of the positive, life-sustaining drives. The libido is, then, the basic tension-producing force leading the individual to seek relief. The objects providing relief are “love” objects, and the attachments to these objects are affectional. Thus, in simplest terms, love is the product of relieving libidinal strivings, and all attachments in life have this common origin.

Freud traced the libido from the cradle to maturity (1905), dividing development into pregenital and genital periods. The pregenital period begins at birth with the oral phase, in which satisfaction comes from stimulation of the erogenous mouth by nursing and such substitute activities as thumbsucking. The anal phase is next, initiated by the emergence of the anal area as a second erogenous zone, and is satisfied by elimination. The third pregenital phase, the phallic stage, begins with awakening of the penis and clitoris as erogenous zones in males and females, respectively, and is satisfied by urination and masturbation. A latency period follows, lasting from about five years of age to puberty. The oral, anal, and phallic satisfactions are then normally in abeyance in whole or part, and the libido finds satisfaction through sublimation—a period of great importance for education. The genital period starts at puberty with reawakening of the genital erogenous zone, this time with more intensity and, in the female, with arousal of internal as well as external genitalia. Satisfaction of the libido now comes normally through coitus, but cultural restrictions may limit satisfactions to substitute activities.

In the pregenital period, the self is a main love object because the individual can satisfy erogenous needs through self-stimulation. The mother is the primary external love object because she feeds, trains, and fondles the infant; for similar reasons the father may be an additional one. Love for the mother is enhanced in the phallic phase in boys, leading to the Oedipus complex, when the mother is an incestuous object and the father an object of hostility, followed by a resolution, usually resulting in identification and love for both parents. The girl develops a parallel complex in which the father becomes an incestuous love object and the mother a hostile object, and this is similarly resolved. The disappearance of the Oedipus complex launches the latency period. In the genital period, unrelated persons of the opposite sex become the primary love objects.

Freud’s theory has had especially great impact on professional people working with children. The “institutionalized child syndrome” has been noted by many and has been a stimulus to research and theory (Spitz 1945). It has been repeatedly observed that infants reared in impersonal institutions lack interest in their environment and show inferior physical and mental development. In extreme cases they die of marasmus, a wasting away of the body, or they may develop autism, a psychological withdrawal. The basis is usually attributed to lack of mothering, although some autistic cases suggest additional or alternative causation. Similarly, many children reared by rejecting or indifferent mothers have been observed to develop early physical and psychological problems, even marasmus and autism (Ribble 1944). In the decade after Watson’s advice to rear children objectively, clinicians reported many “Watsonian” problem children. Consequently, mothers today are counseled to provide abundant love to their infants and children, and whenever possible efforts are made to place motherless infants in loving foster homes [seeInfancy, article onthe effects of early experience].

A negative by-product of psychoanalytic theory has been the singling out of mother–child relationships as the primary cause of behavior problems, neuroses, and psychoses, to the neglect of subsequent events. The resumption of psychological laboratory studies of love promises, however, to amend both theory and practice by focusing attention on additional affectional relationships.

Affectional systems

In a series of experimental studies on the affectional development of rhesus monkeys, Harry Harlow (1959; Harlow & Harlow 1965; 1966) has advanced a theory holding that love must be treated not as a unitary function but as multiple functions served by at least five distinct but interacting affectional systems, each aroused by its own stimulus conditions and expressed through its own response patterns. Each system develops in a series of orderly stages, characterized by different underlying variables and mechanisms. These systems, in order of development, are (1) infant–mother affectional system; (2) infant–infant, or peer, affectional system; (3) heterosexual affectional system; (4) mother–infant, or maternal, affectional system; and (5) father–infant, or paternal, affectional system.

Infant–mother affectional system

The infant–mother affectional system is initiated at birth through reflex sucking and clinging, in which bodily contact plays at least as important a role as nursing. With development, attachment to the mother, whether monkey or human, comes under voluntary control, and sight and sound of the mother as well as contact provide comfort and security, enabling the infant to be away from the mother for increasingly long periods in order to explore its physical and social environment.

Infant–infant affectional system

Contact with other infants launches the infant–infant, or peer, affectional system. The monkey comes to play closely with age-mates and develops strong affectional ties for them. The human mother, and often the father and older children, may bridge the gap between mothering and early peer relationships by playing with the infant at its own level until it is physically mature enough to play actively with peers. While peer relationships strengthen, maternal ties weaken, for the infant’s needs change as it matures, and the changing infant calls forth altering maternal responses. The monkey mother actively abets the process of separating her infant through gradually increasing rejection when the infant makes demands on her. The human mother normally also discourages her infant from too great attachment to her, consciously or unconsciously, by leaving it alone for increasingly long periods, by diverting its attention to toys, by restraining it when it becomes too active, and, eventually, by encouraging it to play with others.

The peer affectional system is the basis of friendship and continues to function throughout childhood, adolescence, and adult life. Affectional systems that develop later do not replace the peer system. The expression of affection may change as individuals mature, and specific friendships may change, but affectional relationships continue between like-sexed and opposite-sexed individuals.

Heterosexual affectional system

The foundation of the heterosexual affectional system is laid in the peer affectional development period. Bodily contact with peers becomes accepted and desired, a basic necessity for heterosexual affection. In monkeys, play comes increasingly to show components of the adult sexual act so that the postures and activities are well organized long before puberty, lacking only intromission and ejaculation. Anthropologists have reported similar play patterns in human cultures permitting juvenile sexual activities (Benedict 1938). Another base of monkey heterosexual behavior in the peer period lies in the development of diverse nonsexual behaviors tending to separate the sexes in their play. The male becomes progressively rougher and more aggressive in play and the female more passive and submissive. The sign of submission in monkeys is turning away from the aggressor, assuming a rigid posture, and averting the face, a pattern closely approximating the female’s role in copulation. This differentiation in play is also present in human children, for boys tend to prefer physical activity and girls less active pastimes. It is likely that this is the basis for affectional preferences of girls for girls and boys for boys in middle childhood—Freud’s latency period.

At puberty, the monkey is prepared for the complete sexual act, limited only by the receptivity of the female, which is restricted to estrus. Generally, the female initiates mating, and the pair shows close ties for no longer than the duration of estrus. Because pregnant or lactating females do not show estrus, opportunities for copulation may be very limited; but the group holds together because of its many and varied affectional attachments. Culture so controls heterosexual activities in human societies, even in those permissive to children, that human heterosexual relationships after puberty follow no universal patterns.

Maternal affectional system

The maternal affectional system in monkeys is initiated with the appearance of the first infant and is reinstated with each subsequent infant. Like the heterosexual affectional system, its basis is laid in the peer affectional system, when infants develop affection for others of their species. Before puberty the female shows interest in babies and may pat or hold them, but even without this experience she can minister to her first infant; monkeys captured at one year, after peer experience, and raised without seeing infants after that time, show tender care at first parturition.

The initial maternal stage is one of continuous physical care, providing nursing, contact, support, grooming, and protection. As the baby gains bodily control, the mother lets the baby leave her, first only briefly and at a short distance, then for longer periods and distances. Eventually she begins to discipline the baby for transgressions, the start of the ambivalent period, which is characterized by increasing negative responses, albeit the predominant behavior is positive, and lasts until the mother has a new infant. Bodily separation is then achieved, but psychological attachment persists long after.

Paternal affectional system

In most subhuman primates, the paternal affectional system is confined to protecting and comforting all young within the troop, for most monkeys and apes live in groups organized around adult male leaders. Females with infants cluster about the male leader or leaders, surrounded by juveniles and by childless and adolescent females. On the periphery are the other males—adolescents, young adults, and outcasts. Adult males are tolerant of infants, occasionally “mothering” abandoned older infants, and they stop uneven squabbles. The paternal affectional system is stronger in human males, doubtless enhanced by culture. It is not uncommon for older boys to protect younger children or for adolescent or childless adult males to assume a paternal role toward youngsters; but for most males in Western cultures the paternal affectional system comes into full operation only with paternity. The helpless infant elicits sympathy and tenderness, and the bonds are strengthened by the infant’s responsiveness. The paternal system, like the maternal one, depends upon the prior establishment of affectional ties to others of the species. It differs from the maternal system, however, in that it lacks the underlying endocrinal changes that accompany parturition in the female and doubtless help shape maternal behavior.

Deprivation studies

The concept of multiple, interdependent affectional systems with roots in varying physical and psychological needs and elaborated by learning explains the sequential development of affectional objects and is consistent with scientific findings on subhuman and human primates, both normal and abnormal ones. Deprivation studies (Harlow & Harlow 1962) point to the importance of both mothering and early peer experience, and especially to peer affection, for later heterosexual and maternal normality, thus removing the compulsion to trace all psychological ills to maternal inadequacy.

Monkeys raised individually from birth to 12 or 24 months of age, with or without a dummy mother, become socially inadequate adolescents and adults. Deprived of both mothering and play with peers, they show abnormal behavior, such as chewing on their bodies or engaging in repetitive stereotyped movements, and they are hyperaggressive when permitted to associate with other monkeys. No male thus raised has ever shown normal sex behavior, even after repeated exposures to breeding-stock females in estrus. Some females have gradually adapted to their heterosexual role, although rarely achieving the fully normal female posture, and 20 of them have produced infants. All but 2 of these “motherless mothers” have been cruel or indifferent to their first-born. Apparently, however, they became socialized by their experience with first babies, because 6 of the 7 mothers producing additional infants were either adequate or overprotective to their later offspring.

On the other hand, monkeys raised with dummy mothers and peer experience from the first month of life, or as groups of 4 in a large cage without any mothering, developed into normal adolescents and adults. Similarly, 4 first-born infants of abusive motherless mothers were given daily experience with each other from birth to 6 months and were normal adolescents. Monkeys raised with their mothers until 8 months old and then given peer experience were hyperaggressive and fearful of intimate contact. Their social adjustment was adequate but inferior to that of mothered monkeys given earlier peer experience. Thus, it would appear that in the protected laboratory situation, monkeys can develop normally without mothering or with inadequate mothering if they can form early affectional ties with peers. Real mothers can substitute for peers somewhat, but mother-raised offspring deprived of early peer affection are less socialized as adolescents.

The Harlow theory is not antithetical to Freud’s and in many aspects parallels it. It may even provide a framework for unifying the findings of psychoanalysis and learning theories of social behavior and personality.

Margaret K. Harlow

[Directly related are the entriesFriendshipandSympathy and empathy. Other relevant material may be found inEmotionandPsychoanalysis.]


Benedict, ruth 1938 Continuities and Discontinuities in Cultural Conditioning. Psychiatry 1:161–167.

Bridges, Katherine M. B. 1931 Social and Emotional Development of the Preschool Child. London: Routledge.

Freud, Sigmund (1905) 1953 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Volume 7, pages 123–245, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth, → First published as Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie.

Hall, Calvin S. 1954 A Primer of Freudian Psychology. Cleveland: World.

Harlow, Harry F. 1959 Love in Infant Monkeys. Scientific American 200, no. 6:68–74.

Harlow, Harry F.; and Harlow, Margaret K. 1962 Social Deprivation in Monkeys. Scientific American 207, no. 5:136–146.

Harlow, Harry F.; and Harlow, Margaret K. 1965 The Affectional Systems. Volume 2, pages 287–334 in Allan M. Schrier, Harry F. Harlow, and F. Stollnitz (editors), Behavior of Nonhuman Primates. New York: Academic Press.

Harlow, Margaret K.; and Harlow, Harry F. 1966 Affection in Primates. Discovery 27, no. 1:11–17.

James, William (1890) 1962 The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Smith.

McDougall, William (1908) 1936 An Introduction to Social Psychology. 23d ed., enl. London: Methuen. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Barnes and Noble.

Ribble, Margaret A. 1944 Infantile Experience in Relation to Personality Development. Volume 2, pages 621–651 in J. McV. Hunt (editor), Personality and the Behavior Disorders. New York: Ronald.

Spitz, RenÉ A. 1945 Hospitalism: An Inquiry Into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1:53–74.

Watson, John B. (1924–1925) 1962 Behaviorism. Rev. ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.


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In the hit 1978 song, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand sing of two lovers' sadness over their dying relationship.

The two lovers in this song notice that doing such things as bringing flowers, touching each other, and even chatting about the day's events, do not appear to be the priorities that they had once been. These expressions of affection (various means by which love is communicated to another person) contribute to the overall atmosphere of love in a given relationship. In fact, research suggests that the informed and deliberate use of expressions of affection has a profound impact on marital satisfaction. In the song above, the couple could, as a result of a failure to express affection, feel the relationship falling apart. Many people, particularly married couples, relate to this song because they have experienced this tragic loss of relational satisfaction on some level.

John Gottman has researched this phenomenon of relationship dissolution for over twenty years. He has predicted (1994), with 94 percent accuracy, whether or not a couple will stay together. According to Gottman, the main indicator of whether or not a couple will stay together is what he calls a 5:1 ratio between positive moments and negative moments. Positive moments are those subjective feelings of love experienced by one spouse that are directly due to the actions of the other spouse. Negative moments are those occasions when one of the partners feels unloved due to the actions (or inactions) of their spouse.

Gottman suggests that the people who are dissatisfied with their relationships and wish to dissolve them do so because they find that the negative moments in the relationship have more impact than the positive moments. Even if there are more positive than negative moments, if the ratio is not great enough, the relationship will be strained. This is primarily the result of the greater impact that unexpected negative moments have on a spouse as opposed to expected positive moments. After all, who marries anticipating feeling unloved? People expect the positive moments and relish the expressions of affection that they receive from their partners, and reel from the negative moments that appear to come, seemingly, out of nowhere. Therefore, according to Gottman, each person needs to experience a larger percentage of positive moments to negative moments in order to feel a sense of satisfaction in the relationship and a desire to maintain it. This is exemplified in the song quoted above.

Expressions of Affection

Given this positive moment–negative moment phenomenon, how can people maximize the positive moments and thereby keep not only their relationship intact, but also their relational partner satisfied? Two studies have addressed this to some degree by considering how one relational partner expresses love to the other (i.e., how to give positive moments through various expressions of affection). Kenneth Villard and Leland Whipple (1976) suggested ways that people express affection to each other. Gary Chapman (1997) followed the same vein, in his book entitled The Five Love Languages. Chapman developed categories of expressions of affection strikingly similar to Villard and Whipple's, including verbal expressions, quality time, gifts, service, and touch. Villard and Whipple had a sixth category, acts of aggression. Even these two lists may not provide an exhaustive understanding of how people express affection, but they do give a general framework for understanding tendencies in this area of relationships.

Verbal expressions. A verbal expression of affection is anything that could be said to or about the other person that could cause them to feel encouraged, loved, or validated. This includes, but is not limited to, the obvious statement "I love you." Many people long for this direct verbal expression of their spouse's feelings (Chapman 1997). The person who looks for verbal expressions of affection is happy with a compliment on appearance, a positive comment about a tasty meal, praise of victories achieved, or verbal support of a spouse's goals or dreams. Public praise or admiration of the spouse, even if it is not said directly to the spouse (either it is overheard or relayed by a third party), enhances the feelings of love felt by the recipient.

Quality time. Whereas some people feel loved when their spouse says positive things about them, others appreciate the second type of expression, quality time. For example, a husband who feels most loved through quality time, feels important when his wife takes time away from her other duties to spend time with him. Or a wife might feel loved through a silent walk on the beach. The quality time does not need to be spent with the couple in seclusion, although it could be spent that way. The most important element in quality time is togetherness. This might mean something as mundane as washing dishes together. While one washes and one dries, they could share stories about their day, dreams about life, or quietly go about the work in front of them with no words exchanged at all. Some research even suggests that such quality time is essential for development and maintenance of relationships (Baxter and Bullis 1986).

Gifts. Although some people see quality time as the primary expression of affection, others enjoy receiving gifts. Research indicates that there are many reasons why a person likes to receive gifts (Areni, Kieckner, and Palan 1998). A wife who feels loved by receiving gifts might be pleased because her husband spent money when it was totally out of character for him to do so. The giving of flowers to signify that the spouse remembered a special day (Mother's Day, birthday, or anniversary) could speak volumes to some partners. A gift could provide a positive moment because it indicates that the spouse thought of the other person when he or she was not present and that thought motivated the gift. Something as simple as picking up a candy bar can express affection.

Acts of service. Many people would say that gifts are perfectly fine, but "the clothes aren't going to fold themselves!" Acts of service, the fourth type of expression of affection, involves one partner performing specific actions for their spouse. The exertion of time and energy for the other's benefit is key. A husband who feels loved by what his wife does for him would experience the greatest feeling of love when his wife fixes dinner or surprises him by mowing the lawn. Likewise, a husband might express affection by changing soiled diapers or doing the laundry. These actions are not always the most wonderful or desirable things to do. Most people do not jump at the chance to clean the toilet or wash the car. However, the thought that a spouse would do something like this, even though he or she does not particularly like to, would make the other spouse feel loved. One researcher has indicated that supportive behaviors include tangible support (i.e., acts of service) through "offering assistance or resources" (Cutrona 1996). By offering time and energy through serving one another, marriage partners are likely to experience positive moments.

Touch. In addition to acts of service, many have the primary need for the fifth type of expression of affection, touch. Physical touch is positive touching. Positive touching does not necessarily have sexual overtones, though it does include this. Rather it is physical touch done for the purpose of showing positive feelings for someone. For instance, cuddling, hugging, an arm around the shoulder, or even holding hands fulfills a person's desire to be touched without a sexual level of involvement. These instances of touch let the other person know that he or she is loved. Touch is a symbolic behavior that sends several different messages. Researchers have outlined four particular categories of touch as a symbolic behavior: support, appreciation, inclusion, and sexual touch ( Jones and Yarbrough 1985). Supportive touch happens when one spouse shows care and concern for the other such as through a hug. Appreciation touching usually occurs with verbalized statement of gratitude. The touch might be a pat on the back or a kiss on the cheek accompanying "Thank you!" Inclusion touching is reserved for intimate friends, spouses, or other family members. It involves such behaviors as holding hands and sitting on laps to suggest special inclusion of deliberately chosen individuals. Sexual touch is designed to indicate sexual attraction and intent toward and including sexual intercourse. Although these are different types of touch, they all could signify a positive moment for some spouses.

Aggression. The final category, which could arguably fall under physical touch, has been separated out because some of its distinct qualities. Aggression, as Villard and Whipple (1967) use it, seems paradoxical. The goal of aggressive touch is not to injure or cause harm to a person (the very antithesis of love). Instead, aggression is affection that might best be described as "horse-play" or "rough-housing." This is the playful pinching, wrestling, or soft punching on the arm that are indicative of many friendships. It differs from physical touch in that it can often be misconstrued by outsiders or even by the recipient of this affection. A specific example of this is playfully wrestling the remote control from a reluctant spouse's hand (with more interest in the wrestling than in the remote control). Messing up a spouse's hair or tugging at their clothing can likewise send signals of affection. Certainly, acts of aggression come in various forms and cease to express love if the other spouse feels, in any way, violated as a result.

Sex Differences and Expressions of Affection

There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not there is a difference between how men and women exhibit these various expressions of affection and how they desire to receive it. For example, Deborah Tannen (1990) suggests there is a difference in how men and women desire to communicate verbally with each other. Although both spouses are capable of utilizing supportive verbal behaviors, men tend to use report speaking, and women tend to use rapport speaking. Report speaking is a type of verbal interaction where the whole purpose is to inform. A husband might organize his thoughts into a list of things that he intends to communicate to his wife. He tells her the items on his list and feels that he has communicated. According to Tannen, this tends to frustrate women who use a rapport type of verbal communication style, in which the whole purpose is to build relationships and share meanings. Tannen argues that, in general, women are more emotionally expressive and feel hurt by men who do not talk about everything on their minds.

Some argue that men and women are predisposed toward particular expressions of affection. Men, it is suggested, are more likely to remember the occasion and effort that they put into giving a gift while women are more likely to remember receiving a gift (Areni, Kieckner, and Palan 1998). If a wife brings her husband a collectible item, he might appreciate it. However, when questioned about gifts, he would be more likely to say that he enjoyed giving her a gift, than receiving one himself. Men, on the other hand, might be more likely to desire physical touch.

As appealing as these differences may sound, and however they may accord with the experience of many, researchers have begun to think that, in general, sex differences in communication are minimal (Canary and Dindia 1998; Canary, Emmers-Sommer, and Faulkner 1997). At issue is not so much how different genders express affection but how individual spouses in a given marriage relationship express it.

Marital Satisfaction

The categories of how people express love to each other are potentially helpful. These expressions of affection suggest a framework for understanding how different people view positive moments. Unfortunately, each spouse has a tendency to expect others to act, think, and desire things the way they do (Knapp and Vangelisti 1996). They focus on how they would like to receive affection. As a result, husbands and wives tend to express love to each other the way that they would like to receive it, thus neglecting to express love the way that the other person would feel the most loved. Examples of this confusion include a wife who feels love through the reception of gifts and who, in turn, gives gifts to her spouse to express affection to him. Little does she realize that he most feels loved through words of affirmation and encouragement. What should have been a positive moment turns into a negative one when a fight ensues because "You don't sing me love songs!" Consequently, spouses become dissatisfied and the relationship dissolves without either party really knowing what happened. Their main explanation is that they no longer feel loved.

Research suggests that a spouse who receives the type of love that he or she desires has higher levels of marital satisfaction than a spouse who does not (Keithley 2000). Each person in the relationship can directly influence the level of satisfaction that the other person experiences. This has profound implications for a relationship.

Knowing that a relational partner might not fully appreciate or feel loved by a certain action makes it clear that communication on this topic between spouses is essential. Likewise, it requires communication to know what positively increases a spouse's sense of satisfaction. If the two people in the relationship take the time to talk about the expressions of affection that the other spouse could perform to make them feel loved (i.e., increase their positive moments), they could specifically attempt to meet their spouse's needs in an informed and deliberate manner. This, of course, demands a certain degree of selfless behavior by both partners in the marriage. But doing so would increase each person's good moments, which, in turn, gives the relationship a greater degree of satisfaction. The song then changes, "You buy me flowers, you sing me love songs, you talk to me all the more, when you walk through the door at the end of the day."

See also:Communication: Couple Relationships; Friendship; Intimacy; Love; Marital Quality; Relationship Maintenance; Renewal of Wedding Vows


areni, c. s.; kieckner, p.; and palan, k. m. (1998). "is itbetter to give than to receive? exploring gender differences in the meaning of memorable gifts." psychology and marketing 15:81–109.

baxter, l. a., and bullis, c. (1986). "turning points in developing romantic relationships." communication research 12:469–493.

canary, d. j., and dindia, k., eds. (1998). sex differences and similarities in communication: critical essaysand empirical investigations of sex and gender in interaction. mahwah, nj: lawrence erlbaum associates.

canary d. j.; emmers-sommer, t. m.; and faulkner, s.(1997). sex and gender: differences in personal relationships. new york: guilford press.

chapman, g. (1997). the five love languages: how to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. chicago: northfield publishing.

cutrona, c. e. (1996). "social support as a determinant ofmarital quality: the interplay of negative and supportive behaviors." in handbook of social support and the family, ed. g. r. pierce, b. r. sarason, and i. g. sarason. new york: plenum press.

diamond, n.; bergman, a.; and bergman, m. (1978). "youdon't bring me flowers." stonebrige music (ascap) and threesome music (ascap).

gottman, j. m. (1994). "why marriages fail." in makingconnections: readings in relational communication, ed. k. m. galvin and p. j. cooper. los angeles: roxbury.

jones, s. e., and yarbrough, a. e. (1985). "a naturalisticstudy of the meanings of touch." communication monographs 52:19–55.

keithley, j. m. (2000). "how do i love thee? let mecount the ways: the impact of affection on marital satisfaction." unpublished master's thesis. macomb: western illinois university.

knapp, m. l., and vangelisti, a. l. (1996). interpersonalcommunication and human relationships, 3rd edition. boston: allyn and bacon.

tannen, d. (1990). you just don't understand: women and men in conversation. new york: ballantine books.

villard, k. l., and whipple, l. j. (1967). beginnings inrelational communication. new york: john wiley and sons.



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The late eighteenth century was marked by revolutions in both political and personal life. While the American Revolution challenged patriarchical and tyrannical forms of government, models of democratic union also reshaped family life and personal relationships. The new nation was dedicated to "the pursuit of happiness," and affection was a fundamental component of this social and political vision. In friendship, courtship, marriage, and child rearing, men and women began to privilege emotional standards that stressed a warm egalitarianism. These shifting ideals deeply influenced and affected how early national Americans experienced their most intimate and emotionally fulfilling relationships.

The emerging emphasis on affection was influenced by the "culture of sensibility," which encouraged individuals to relate to the feelings, concerns, and sufferings of others. The culture of sensibility asserted that individuals should develop strong bonds of connection with others that would enable them to greater appreciate both the joys and sorrows of life. Stressing intense, emotional reactions to even the most everyday events of life, sensibility privileged a world of affectionate interaction between individuals who felt an acute sense of affinity. In their various personal and social relationships, individuals increasingly valued expressive, candid communications with one another that would heighten this ideal of shared experience and feeling.

In particular, these shifting emotional standards ushered in significant changes in the experiences and expectations of romantic love, courtship, and marriage. Throughout the eighteenth century, it was not uncommon for parents to influence, and at times actively control, their children's marital choices with larger economic and social goals in mind. But in the post-Revolutionary period, parental interference lessened as couples began to exercise more autonomy and individualism regarding matters of the heart. In the process, the expectations that men and women brought with them into marriage also grew. No longer conceived of in terms of patriarchal authority and wifely submission, marriage became invested with affectionate ideals that stressed egalitarian relationships between loving partners. The emerging ideal of "companionate marriage" celebrated affection, affinity, and mutuality. Men and women came to expect unparalleled happiness and fulfillment in their unions with one another as affectionate bonds of intimacy and friendship became the cornerstones of happy marriages.

Yet throughout the early national period, tensions existed between older models of patriarchal authority and newer ideals of affectionate companionship. While marriage was idealized in terms of partnership and equality, wives were still encouraged to defer to their husbands in order to maintain domestic harmony. And while affectionate bonds between parent and child heightened the emotional experiences of childhood, husbands and fathers still maintained legal and cultural authority over the household unit. Ultimately, the emphasis given to emotional bonds of affection in family life helped to obscure the continued existence of power dynamics that sustained male privilege in economic and political spheres. In essence, women were urged to abandon claims for equality and to settle instead for affection within their personal relationships. Yet these affectionate ideals often proved difficult to sustain, creating tensions between expectation and experience. Further, those women and children who endured abuse or abandonment in the absence of their husbands and fathers' "true" affection were often left with few legal or economic protections.

Despite tensions between emotional ideals and lived experience, individuals continued to idealize affectionate relationships as sources of deep fulfillment and personal happiness. At once an expression of and a conduit for individualism, affection offered men and women the chance to reveal their innermost selves with like-minded individuals who shared deep, expressive bonds of sensibility and affinity. Such highly charged, emotionally fulfilling relationships served as bulwarks against more impersonal, disingenuous encounters that individuals might also experience in their daily lives. Although men and women feared being betrayed by another's duplicity or false affection, many took the risk of being disappointed or deceived in the hopes of actualizing the ideals of affectionate companionship. The emotional stakes were high as relationships increasingly were invested with intense expectations and imaginative ideals.

Affection revolutionized how men and women made sense of themselves and the world around them and reshaped both personal and political life. Throughout the early national period, affectionate ideals for personal relationships were used as models for political and social harmony. As friends and couples freely entered into affectionate unions with one another, they created egalitarian forms of interaction that influenced the nature of political participation in the young Republic. Bonds of affection, rather than authority, became the organizing device for both politics and the family. In many ways, America's sense of itself as a people and a nation rested in this persistent belief in the power of affection.

See alsoChildhood and Adolescence; Courtship; Domestic Life; Marriage; Women: Overview; Women: Rights .


Burstein, Andrew. Sentimental Democracy: The Evolution of America's Romantic Self-Image. New York: Hill and Wang, 1999.

Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750–1800. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Jabour, Anya. Marriage in the Early Republic: Elizabeth and William Wirt and the Companionate Ideal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Lewis, Jan. The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson's Virginia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Lystra, Karen. Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Stearns, Peter N., and Carol Z. Stearns. "Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards." American Historical Review 90 (1985): 813–836.

Lucia McMahon


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af·fec·tion / əˈfekshən/ • n. 1. a gentle feeling of fondness or liking: she felt affection for the wise old lady| he won a place in her affections. ∎  physical expressions of these feelings: the prisoners crave affection and hence participate in sexual relationships.2. archaic the act or process of affecting or being affected. ∎  a condition of disease: an affection of the skin. ∎  a mental state; an emotion.DERIVATIVES: af·fec·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.


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affection emotion, disposition, fondness XIII; bodily state, spec. abnormal XVI. — (O)F. — L. affectiō, -ōn-, f. afficere AFFECT2.
So affectionate XVI. — medL. affectionātus or F. affectionné. affective XV.