Article by Sophie Main

As we concluded last half term love was in the air, (albeit virtually). February 14th, popularly known as Valentine’s Day, happened only 2 days after we had broken up and the supermarket shelves were stacked full of chocolates and roses. Originating as an ancient Roman festival in 496 AD, 21st century Valentine’s Day is an annual reoccurrence in which loved ones express their affections through gifts and greetings. However, despite the pressure some may have felt to buy the perfect box of chocolates, scientific research leads us to believe that the emotion of love did not exist in early humans. 

From an evolutionary perspective, the main role of an organism is to reproduce. This is evident down the smallest cell in your body to the largest creature on earth; humans are no exception. The desire to pass down our characteristics, thus securing our own genetic survival, drives the desire for organisms to create the perfect conditions in which their offspring will stand the greatest chance of survival. 

Perfect conditions are more likely to form when two parents are together. This is because, in comparison to most other species, humans have a much longer period of time in which they are dependent on their parents. For example, a giraffe will take its first steps within 30-60 minuets of being born, whereas a human baby is expected to walk at roughly a year old. Due to our material dependency, when parents are together it creates a higher likelihood of sufficient food, shelter, and protection – or the perfect conditions to support a new-born. 

It is for this reason that we have evolved over time to fall in love. Love between parents provides a greater incentive to stay together and help provide for their offspring. It creates a higher chance of having the favourable conditions that are needed for a human child when they are in their vulnerable years, thus enabling them to survive. Scientists call this type of emotion a “social emotion". It is one which was not originally embedded into our brains, instead of feelings such as fear, disgust, and happiness. Social emotions include guilt, jealousy, empathy, and pride. We have evolved to feel these emotions as it benefited our ancestors by, not only increasing rates of successful reproduction, but also lowering the rates of group violence and increasing a sense of belonging. 

The notion of love increasing reproduction rates in humans is explored further in Kaplan et al (2000). Kaplan states that “the effect of the commitment to food sharing is evident in the reproductive physiology of human women”. Later saying, food sharing helps to “increase their rate of energy production during their reproductive years”, thus supporting the idea that pair-bonding increases female reproduction rates. Opie, Dunbar, Atkinson, and Shultz (2014) also explored this idea further, determining that marriage not only plays an important role in increasing reproductive rates, but also in reducing male infanticide (the act of killing unwanted children). This evidence demonstrates to us the evolutionary advantage of love extends even further than boosting reproduction rates than was initially thought. 

We do not know for certain if cavemen fell in love, but it is likely that they did not experience inter-human relations as we do today. Social emotions affect us all the time from feeling pride when collecting an award to being jealous that your friend got a better score than you in a test. Despite being the root of many modern-day challenges, they have allowed for the human race to survive. So instead of worrying what chocolate box to get a loved one next Valentine’s Day, be thankful that the emotions you feel as it is likely that without them you would not be around today.