Love and Sex with Robots
The Evolution Of Human-Robot Relationships
Harper. 334 pp. $24.95
Friday, December 21, 2007
Falling in Love (with People)
Why on earth should people fall in love with robots? A very good question, and one that is central to this book. But before we can begin to answer this question, we need to examine exactly why we humans fall in love, why love develops in one person for another human being.
Since the 1980s many aspects of love have become hot research topics in psychology, but one area that has been relatively neglected by researchers is why people fall in love. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the conclusion of some recent studies that romantic love is a continuation of the process of attachment, a well-known and well-studied phenomenon in children but less studied in adults. Attachment is a feeling of affection, usually for a person but sometimes for an object or even for an institution such as a school or corporation.
Children first become attached to objects very early in their lives. Babies only a few weeks old exhibit some of the signs of attachment, initially to their mothers, and as babies grow older, the signs of attachment extend to certain objects and remain evident for several years. A baby cries for its blanket and its rattle, a toddler for its teddy bear; a primary-school child yearns for her doll. Different items become the focus of each child's possessive attentiveness as the process continues, but with changing objects of attachment. Toys, Walkmen, computer consoles, bicycles, and almost any other possession can become the focus of the attachment process. As the child develops into a young adult who in turn develops into a more mature adult, so the process continues to hold sway, but with the object of focus generally changing to "adult toys" such as cars and computers. And, as the psychologists now tell us, attachment to people becomes evident in a different guise, as adults fall in love.
Attachment and Love
Attachment is a term in psychology most commonly used to describe the emotionally close and important relationships that people have with each other. Attachment theory was founded on the need to explain the emotional bond between mother and infant. The British developmental psychologist John Bowlby, one of the first investigators in this field, described attachment as a behavioral system operated by infants to regulate their proximity to their primary caregivers. He explained the evolution of such a system as being essential for the survival of the infant, in view of its inability to feed itself, its very limited capacities for exploring the world around it, and its powerlessness to avoid and defend itself from danger. Bowlby also believed that the significance of attachment is not restricted to children but that it extends "from the cradle to the grave," playing an important role in the emotional lives of adults.
Bowlby's notion of attachment as a phenomenon that spans the entire human life span was first explored at a symposium organized by the American Psychological Association in 1976, and during the 1970s and early 1980s Bowlby's ideas on attachment were embraced by several psychologists investigating the nature and causes of love and loneliness in adults. Some of these researchers had observed that the frequency and nature of periods of loneliness appear to be influenced by a person's history of attachment, but until the late 1980s there was no solid theory that linked a person's attachment history with his or her love life. Then, in 1987, Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver suggested that romantic love is an attachment process akin to that between mother and child, a concept that they then applied successfully to the study of adult romantic relationships, with the spouse and various significant others replacing parents as the attachment figures. The principal propositions of their theory have been summarized as follows:
1. The emotional and behavioral dynamics of infant-caregiver relationships and adult romantic relationships are governed by the same biological system.
2. The kinds of individual differences observed in infant-caregiver relationships are similar to the differences observed in romantic relationships.
3. Individual differences in adult attachment behavior are reflections of the expectations and beliefs people have formed about themselves and their close relationships, on the basis of their attachment histories. These "working models" are relatively stable and, as such, may be reflections of early experiences with a caregiver.
4. Romantic love, as commonly conceived, involves the interplay of three major biological behavior systems: attachment (lovers feel a dependence on each other in a way that is similar to how a baby feels about her mother); caregiving (one lover sees the other as a child that needs to be cared for in some way); and sex (for which there is no simple parallel in attachment theory).
In practice, the similarity between infant-caregiver attachment and adult romantic attachment manifests itself principally in four different ways: Both infants and adults enjoy being in the presence of their attachment figures and seek them out to engender praise when they accomplish something or when they feel threatened; both infants and adults become distressed when separated from their attachment figures; both infants and adults regard their attachment figures as providing security for them when they feel distressed; and both infants and adults feel more comfortable when exploring new possibilities if they are doing so in the presence of, or when accessible to, their attachment figures.
Hazan and Shaver's theory of romantic love as an attachment process contributed little to psychologists' understanding of the role played by attachment in romantic relationships, or to how that form of attachment evolves. Shaver's view at the time was that the process of natural selection had somehow "co-opted" the human attachment system in order to facilitate the bonding process in couples, thereby promoting feelings akin to the parental instincts that help infants to survive. But during the 1990s, researchers into the theory instead began to come to the conclusion that there exists a "modest to moderate degree of continuity in attachment style" as a person ages, implying that those infants who have strong attachment bonds with their mothers are more likely to grow into adults who have strong attachment bonds with their partners. If this is indeed the case, then one's capacity to experience romantic love would appear to depend on one's attachment history.
Excerpted from Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy Copyright © 2007 by David Levy. Excerpted by permission.
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