Definitions of love in a sample of British women: An empirical study using Q methodology

Watts, Simon and Stenner, Paul (2014). Definitions of love in a sample of British women: An empirical study using Q methodology. British Journal of Social Psychology, 53(3) pp. 557–572.



Social psychological research has increasingly acknowledged that any pretensions to a singular theory of love should be replaced with a concern about its affirmation and what people actually say and do in love's name. Lee's (1977) love styles research and Sternberg's (1995) theory of love as a story are prime examples. Despite traditional definitions of love in western cultures being dominated by feminine images and tales of gender difference, however, the personal definitions and experiences of women have received comparatively little empirical attention, particularly in recent years and despite some well-documented changes in their cultural circumstances. This study remedies that situation through presentation of a Q methodological study in which a convenience sample of 59 British women were asked to Q sort 54 single-word descriptors of love to define love as they had experienced it. Factor analysis of the resulting Q sorts revealed six distinct definitions of love, interpreted as ‘attraction, passion & romance’, ‘unconditional love’, ‘sex & fun’, ‘friendship & spirituality’, ‘a permanent commitment’, and ‘separate people, separate lives’. The six definitions are then discussed in terms of their allegiance to traditionally feminine and/or masculine values and as a means of highlighting the changing face of Britain's relational culture.

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