Belief in free will and belief in determinism both linked to stronger passionate love

Research published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition has found that people who believe in free will feel more passionate love towards their romantic partner. But the same is also true of those who believe in determinism.

Three studies of 871 participants found a strong link between relationship between belief in free will and passionate love, even after controlling for the level of belief in determinism, relationship status, and cultural background. The study also found a positive relationship between passionate love and belief in determinism, although this association was not as strong.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Jordane Boudesseul of the University of Grenoble. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

While reading The Reasons of Love (by Harry Frankfurt), I stumbled upon the idea that there might have been an evolutionary pressure to love certain type of people (children, compatible mates, etc.) and that this love would make the beloved valuable to the other (not the characteristics of the other itself).

Then, I started to read the literature on that matter and realized that there had been increasing concerns about the perceived authenticity of love that could be produced by a so-called “love drugs”. True love would thus require some degrees of freedom. On the other hand, a myriad of metaphors, including the famous “falling in love”, also indicates that a part of this love may be somehow linked to determinism.

We predicted that, in this particular case, passionate love could be positively linked to both beliefs in free will and determinism.

What should the average person take away from your study?

That passionate love is positively linked to both beliefs in free will and determinism, meaning that love may be associated to those two type of beliefs not necessary at the same time but, for example, throughout the relationship.

It may thus be a normal process, at least for passionate love, to sometimes have the impression to be “forced” to love someone but also to feel that our possibilities are bigger when we are in love.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

As with any studies, several limits can be mentioned. To my mind, the main concern is the correlational nature of the relation between passionate love and beliefs in free will and determinism. Our design restrained us from concluding if passionate love effectively impacts our class of beliefs (free will, determinism, etc.) or if those beliefs influence our level of passionate love, or if both factors influence each other or, again, if another third factor is explaining this association.

Also, the none-dynamic nature of our study makes it difficult to draw a picture of the relationship between the different components. At a local level, we cannot say how the relationship between those factors varies and how they may be associated, we only drew a general picture of the problem.

An experimental longitudinal study could help to clarify this model and figure out the complex nature of love.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to conclude on a more general thought from one of Frankfurt’s book:

“Love does not require a response by the lover to any real or imagined value in what he loves. Parents do not ordinarily love their children so much, for example, because they perceive that their children possess exceptional value. In fact, it is the other way around: the children seem to the parents to be valuable, and they are valuable to the parents, only because the parents love them. Parents have been known to love—quite genuinely—children that they themselves recognize as lacking any particular inherent merit. As I understand the nature of love, the lover does not depend for this loving upon reasons of any kind. Love is not a conclusion. It is not an outcome of reasoning, or a consequence of reasons. It creates reasons.” (Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right, p.25).

The study, “Free love? On the relation between belief in free will, determinism, and passionate love“, was also co-authored by Anthony Lantian, Florian Cova, and Laurent Bègue.