Tracing the heart's journey through scholarly seas: A study on the evolving tides of romantic love

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In a recent article published in the journal Humanities & Social Communications, researchers reviewed trends in recent research and avenues for future studies on the subject of romantic love and relationships. Their findings have implications for the formulation of policies that can promote stronger familial ties and, thus, a more solid and resilient social fabric.

Review: A decade of love: mapping the landscape of romantic love research through bibliometric analysis. Image created with the assistance of DALL·E 3

Review: A decade of love: mapping the landscape of romantic love research through bibliometric analysis. Image created with the assistance of DALL·E 3

Background

Romantic love has been defined as an intense longing for union with another person. The presence of love leads to the transition from the initial stages of a relationship to the communication and satisfaction of a committed partnership. 

Despite the power of love, however, romantic relationships are shorter than ever, and nearly half of first marriages now end in divorce in the United States. Commitment is no longer a significant factor in relationships, and expectations and experiences of love also appear to be changing.

Love is a unique and enigmatic phenomenon that has captivated not just the great poets but also neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, and biologists. This has led to a wide array of scholarly work on the subject, covering numerous disciplinary domains and examining not just the positive emotions that love evokes but also the negative behaviors that it can engender.

Bibliometric analysis, which provides quantitative insights into scientific, technological, and academic work, offers a way to summarize and synthesize the depth and breadth of this vast literature.

About the study

The Web of Science database was used to identify relevant literature published between 2013 and 2022 using a keyword search. Included studies were written in English; early access articles, conference proceedings, book chapters, retracted publications, and data papers were excluded.

On applying these criteria, 6858 papers were included in the analysis, which involved generating and interpreting informative and intuitive visual maps as well as evolutionary and co-occurrence analysis based on themes and trends identified from the literature.

Findings

Since 2013, annual publications and citation counts have shown an upward trend, with a 90-fold surge to 2022. More researchers are focusing on this topic, suggesting that these numbers might rise faster in the coming years. More than 15,000 researchers from 104 countries contributed to these papers.

Network analysis identified the most influential authors and collaborators in this group; the most productive writer published 74 articles. The trend showed high levels of collaboration between authors from around the world. However, dissemination of research was higher in high-income countries, which has implications for well-being.

The 6,858 publications were published in 1,251 journals, with the top 10 publications accounting for nearly one-fourth of all articles. Journals from the United States accounted for half of all publications, while the United Kingdom published 40%. China was the most prolific of the developing countries, with 328 publications.

While some papers were published in journals with an impact factor (IF) of nearly 8.5, there were indications that studies on romantic love might have difficulty getting accepted to high-IF publications (the average IF was 4.070). Psychology journals accounted for 66% of publications, but other disciplines included psychiatry, sociology, women’s studies, and economics.

Keyword analysis suggested that between 2020 and 2022, the phrases ‘conflict resolution,’ ‘social relationships,’ and ‘same-sex’ peaked in popularity. Non-heterosexual relationships have often been stigmatized, but emerging research shows how destigmatization can lead to less risky sexual behaviors and higher emotional well-being.

An increase in focus on conflict resolution may promote healthier relationship outcomes; in this regard, computer-mediated conflict resolution has shown promise. Studies on social relationships have focused on racial issues and brain scans to examine the neurobiological foundations of love. In recent years, studies have shown that peer victimization and dating violence are becoming more common in younger age groups and that online dating can lead to increases in depression.

Over time, the authors noticed a shift from an idealized view of love to a more realistic one. Open fields of inquiry include teen dating, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and attachment insecurity, with a focus on the interconnected cluster of romantic relationships, gender, and attachment. For example, there were clear indicators that male adolescents are more likely to be perpetrators of dating or intimate partner violence.

Conclusions

The findings from this study included trends in research, identified the historical trajectory that scholarship has taken, and assessed fruitful avenues for future exploration. The results are also relevant in terms of identifying interventions – for example, adolescent males can be targeted to reduce the incidence of dating violence. Future studies can expand this research question to databases beyond the Web of Science and include publications written in other languages as well as grey literature (conference papers, working papers, and other publications.

Journal reference:
  • A decade of love: mapping the landscape of romantic love research through bibliometric analysis. Han, Y., Luo, Y., Chen, Z., Gao, N., Song, Y., Liu, S. Humanities & Social Communications (2024), DOI - 10.1057/s41599-024-02665-7, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-024-02665-7
Priyanjana Pramanik

Written by

Priyanjana Pramanik

Priyanjana Pramanik is a writer based in Kolkata, India, with an academic background in Wildlife Biology and economics. She has experience in teaching, science writing, and mangrove ecology. Priyanjana holds Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation (National Centre of Biological Sciences, 2022) and Economics (Tufts University, 2018). In between master's degrees, she was a researcher in the field of public health policy, focusing on improving maternal and child health outcomes in South Asia. She is passionate about science communication and enabling biodiversity to thrive alongside people. The fieldwork for her second master's was in the mangrove forests of Eastern India, where she studied the complex relationships between humans, mangrove fauna, and seedling growth.

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