Love is most likely one of the most complex nouns in the English language. It brings to mind so many different feelings of its own, and just hearing the word may invoke a wide variety of emotions in different people. However, researchers from Penn State have found that love as a feeling holds a lot of similarities between the American people.
In a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers had 495 American adults answer a questionnaire about whether or not they thought most people would feel loved in 60 different scenarios. These scenarios included positive, neutral, and negative situations.
“Whether we feel loved or not plays an important role in how we feel from day to day,” says Saeideh Heshmati, a postdoctoral researcher in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. “We were curious about whether the majority of Americans could agree about what makes people feel loved on a daily basis, or if it was a more personal thing.”
Their findings show that people feel the most loved when they receive small, non-romantic physical gestures, such as hugging and snuggling up with a pet.
“We found that behavioral actions — rather than purely verbal expressions — triggered more consensus as indicators of love,” said Heshmati.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, controlling behaviors – such as someone wanting to know their whereabouts at all times – were seen as the least loving.
“Our results show that people do agree, and the top scenarios that came back weren’t necessarily romantic,” explains Heshmati. “So it is possible for people to feel loved in simple, everyday scenarios. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top gestures.”
Overall, the researchers found that behavioral actions were more likely to be seen as indicators of love, rather than verbal expressions. And yes, that even included saying “I love you.” Heshmati explains this by proposing that people might see behavior as more authentic, rather than someone “just saying something.”
Another interesting finding of the study was that men tended to know less about what the majority of the American culture deems loving. Heshmati points out that previous research has shown that men tend to think differently about the concept of love compared to women. Furthermore, people in a relationship and people with agreeable or neurotic personality traits also had a better idea of the cultural consensus.
After all this, Heshmati still says that we should be careful in assuming that any one individual may have the same feelings about love as us, even if you’re in a relationship with them. “It may not be wise to go into a relationship assuming that both of you know the same things about feeling loved or that all of the same things will make you feel loved,” Heshmati says. “I think it’s important to communicate these things to each other, which can assist in being more in tune with each other and feeling loved in the relationship.”