Can Love Ever Be Mean? Yes, Sort of

This is a little spooky.  A new study has found that love can sometimes make us mean.

Say what?

The study found that, under certain circumstances, feelings of warmth, tenderness and sympathy can in fact predict aggressive behaviors, according to a recent study by two University at Buffalo researchers.  Love and compassion go hand-in-hand, or do they?  The study attempted to find out.


It turns out it’s not about anger or feeling personally threatened, says study author Michael J. Poulin.

 Apparently, it's all about hormones that lead to increased "approach behaviors," says Poulin, a professor of psychology, according to newswise.com.  “People are motivated by social approach or getting closer to others.”

But Poulin adds that people approach one another for many reasons, including aggression, so it stands to reason that if compassion is linked to the action of these hormones and these hormones are linked to social approach behaviors, they might help account for the link between compassion and aggression.


In the end, it's all about third parties.


The survey asked people to report on someone close to them and explain how that person was threatened by a third-party. Then, participants described their emotions and reaction to the situation.

“That wasn’t surprising,” says Poulin.

People aggressing on behalf of others has been widely researched, but Poulin says, “The idea that empathy can drive aggression absent of provocation or injustice is quite novel.”

During the study a subject had a choice on how much of a painful stimulus they would provide to a third party who was competing with the person they had compassion toward. “In situations where we care about someone very much, as humans, we were motivated to benefit them, but if there is someone else in the way, we may do things to harm that third party," Poulin says.

“The results of both the survey and the experiment indicate that the feelings we have when other people are in need, what we broadly call empathic concern or compassion, can predict aggression on behalf of those in need,” says Poulin. “In situations where we care about someone very much, as humans, we were motivated to benefit them, but if there is someone else in the way, we may do things to harm that third party.”






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