Pair-Bonding, Romantic Love, and Evolution: The Curious Case of Homo sapiens

Garth J.O. Fletcher, Jeffry A. Simpson, Lorne Campbell, Nickola C. Overall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


This article evaluates a thesis containing three interconnected propositions. First, romantic love is a “commitment device” for motivating pair-bonding in humans. Second, pair-bonding facilitated the idiosyncratic life history of hominins, helping to provide the massive investment required to rear children. Third, managing long-term pair bonds (along with family relationships) facilitated the evolution of social intelligence and cooperative skills. We evaluate this thesis by integrating evidence from a broad range of scientific disciplines. First, consistent with the claim that romantic love is an evolved commitment device, our review suggests that it is universal; suppresses mate-search mechanisms; has specific behavioral, hormonal, and neuropsychological signatures; and is linked to better health and survival. Second, we consider challenges to this thesis posed by the existence of arranged marriage, polygyny, divorce, and infidelity. Third, we show how the intimate relationship mind seems to be built to regulate and monitor relationships. Fourth, we review comparative evidence concerning links among mating systems, reproductive biology, and brain size. Finally, we discuss evidence regarding the evolutionary timing of shifts to pair-bonding in hominins. We conclude there is interdisciplinary support for the claim that romantic love and pair-bonding, along with alloparenting, played critical roles in the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-36
Number of pages17
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 21 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2014.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • alloparenting
  • evolution
  • monogamy
  • pair-bonding
  • romantic love

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Pair-Bonding, Romantic Love, and Evolution: The Curious Case of Homo sapiens'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this