(Dr David Duemler has kindly offered this book review to us. Read and enjoy!LJ)
In her book Love 2.0, Barbara Frederickson proposes that love is based on
micro-moments of “positivity resonance.” In these moments there is
sharing of positive emotion, synchrony in biochemistry and behavior, and
motivation resulting in mutual care.
Frederickson is not the first to point out the value of sharing positive
emotion. This is central to Shelley Gable’s concept of
active-constructive responding. When one’s friend or spouse share’s good
news, showing enthusiasm and interest can help to create a stronger
Of course, while Frederickson focuses on the sharing of positive emotion,
how one responds to expressions of negative emotion is also important.
Jaak Panksepp has proposed that in the context defined by
parent-offspring attachment, the offspring’s distress vocalization
triggers empathic PANIC/ GRIEF in the parent, in turn leading to CARE.
Similarly, in an adult romantic relationship, John Gottman proposes that
empathic, non-defensive listening, called “attunement,” is critical to
creating trust. It seems that “negativity resonance,” which may also
involve shared emotion, synchrony, and care, is just as important as
Frederickson cites interesting research by Uri Hasson and his colleagues.
They used an MRI to examine brain activity when people were engaged in a
conversation. They found evidence of “brain coupling,” or synchronization
of brain activity that goes beyond the mirror neuron system. The insula,
an area involved in conscious feeling states, was among the areas showing
Frederickson also cites evidence that mutual positive engagement is
associated with synchronized levels of oxytocin. The vagus nerve puts the
brake on the heart rate and also leads to the release of oxytocin.
Frederickson and Bethany Kok found that people with higher vagal tone
experience more moments of positivity resonance. Frederickson and her
colleagues have also found that loving kindness meditation improves vagal
tone. Frederickson’s conclusion is the positivity resonance underlies
genuine care and concern.
These are just a few of the very interesting findings presented in
Yet, there are also some problems. First, Frederickson appears to make
some rather bold claims. For example, she states that love is not
exclusive, lasting, or unconditional (pg. 5). Yet what she really means
is that moments of positivity resonance are not exclusive, lasting, or
unconditional. In other words, she is using the term positivity resonance
as synonymous with love. Because most scientists and people in general
use the term love to refer to more than just positivity resonance, such
claims can lead to confusion.
It is also not clear where Frederickson’s theory fits in with previous
work on love’s types (e.g., Elaine Hatfield’s passionate and
companionate), components (e.g., Robert Sternberg’s passion, intimacy,
and commitment), or stages (e.g., Helen Fisher’s lust, attraction, and
That said, positivity resonance may play an important role in both passion
and companionship/ intimacy. Indeed, Frederickson goes so far as to
maintain that love, as defined in terms of moments of positivity
resonance, is “virtually identical” whether these moments occur between
parent and child, lovers, friends, or strangers (pg. 30).
This brings up my greatest concern with Frederickson’s book. Is having
sexual intercourse with one’s lover really so similar to stopping to
converse with one’s neighbor while on a morning walk, or are there
important distinctions to be made?
Evolutionary scientists have over the years proposed many different
mechanisms for cooperation and altruism (e.g., kin selection, direct
reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, group selection/ multi-level selection,
social selection, spatial selection, and the handicap principle). These
mechanisms (and there may be others) appear to have evolved within
specific social domains ranging from parenting, to mutualism, to small
group membership. It cannot all be reduced to a single phenomenon such as
This is a concern that applies as well to Frederickson’s earlier book
Positivity. Frederickson proposes a general theory and thereby neglects
With her Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions, Frederickson
proposed that positive emotions broaden an organism’s awareness and
behavioral repertoire, while also encouraging the organism to take
advantage of a safe context by building skills and resources. Yet what
Frederickson did not attempt was to address the specific domains within
which each of her 10 proposed positive emotions evolved, or their
functions within these domains.
Fortunately, where Frederickson’s latest book is lacking, Jaak Panksepp
does a magnificent job with his recent book The Archaeology of Mind. In
this book Panksepp examines the brain circuitry and the neurochemistry of
mammalian primary process emotional systems, as well as associated
behaviors. These systems include SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC/
GRIEF, and PLAY.
Panksepp proposes that in evolutionary terms the CARE circuitry may have
emerged from the LUST circuitry and shares much of its neurochemistry. He
examines the interactions between systems: CARE inhibits GRIEF, GRIEF
reduces PLAY, and GRIEF can trigger CARE.
Panksepp expresses concern about the emerging mythology of oxytocin as
the love hormone. Reality is far more complex. Within the LUST system he
examines the role of testosterone, vasopressin, nitric oxide, estrogen,
progesterone, oxytocin, and prolactin, among others. Estrogen and
progesterone, as well as oxytocin, also play important roles in CARE,
while testosterone may counter CARE. He proposes that much of the
positive emotion associated with CARE involves the dopamine of the
SEEKING circuitry, as well as endogenous opioids, oxytocin, prolactin,
and others yet to be identified.
I won’t get into the brain areas or behaviors relating to each system.
But there is an important point to be made. A general theory that
neglects domain specificity is bound to gloss over important
distinctions. Sex with one’s lover and saying a friendly hello to a
neighbor may indeed be similar in some important respects. But they are
not the same in every respect. When someone proposes a general theory, he
or she risks glossing over important distinctions. If someone is
interested in studying positivity resonance, that’s great. It’s an
important and fascinating topic. But let’s not pretend that this will
lead to a general theory of love or positive social interaction.
So, would I recommend Frederickson’s book? Yes, but I’d start with Panksepp.