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Prototype analysis of the concepts of love and commitment Fehr, Beverley Anne


Psychologists have yet to agree on a definition of the concepts of love and commitment. Attempts at a classical definition, whereby a concept is defined in terms of a necessary and sufficient set of criterial attributes, have not met with success. The purpose of this research was to test the feasibility of viewing the concepts of love and commitment from a prototype perspective, as well as to shed light on the relation between these concepts. According to the prototype view, people's knowledge of many natural language categories is structured around a prototype—a list of features or attributes that are typical of the concept, but which do not constitute a set of defining features. Some features of a concept are more central than others, and neighboring concepts share features in overlapping, and criss-crossing ways. Boundaries between concepts therefore are blurry and ill-defined. The feasibility of conceptualizing the everyday concepts of love and commitment as prototypes was tested using Roach's approach. Six studies were conducted. The purpose of the first four studies was to explore and validate the prototype structure of the concepts of love and commitment. The purpose of the last two was to discover whether the prototype structure of love and commitment had implications for how the dynamics of interpersonal relationships are perceived. In Study One, subjects were asked to list the features of love and/or commitment. In Study Two, another group of subjects rated these features according to how central (prototypical) they were to each concept. As predicted, subjects found it meaningful to rate the extent to which each feature was a good or poor characteristic of love [commmitment] ; they agreed with one another in their responses. Moreover, centrality ratings were positively correlated with frequency of free listing in Study One. The centrality of features of these concepts was then shown to affect certain dependent measures important in psychological research. In Study Three memory for central and peripheral features was examined. It was found that subjects were able to remember veridically both central and peripheral features that had been presented. However, as predicted, subjects demonstrated a bias toward remembering central, but not peripheral, features that had not been presented. In Study Four, prototypicality effects in the use of natural language were investigated. Consistent with predictions, it sounded peculiar to preface central features with hedges like "sort of", while it sounded natural to hedge peripheral features. The rationale was that hedges serve a kind of "distancing from the prototype" function in everyday language. The purpose of Studies Five and Six was to examine whether the prototype structure of love and commitment influenced how people assess whether a relationship is moving toward, or away from, increased love or commitment. In Study Five, subjects were presented with a series of relationship types that varied in how loving or committed they were. It was hypothesized that central features would be seen as increasingly more applicable as a relationship increased in love [commitment], whereas the applicability of peripheral features would not vary systematically as a function of the type of relationship being rated. The results conformed to predictions. In Study Six, subjects were presented with a description of a loving and committed relationship. It was expected that violations of central attributes would be perceived as contributing to a greater decrease in love or commitment than would violations of peripheral features. Again, results supported predictions. The secondary theme, the relation between the concepts of love and commitment, was addressed in some way in each of these studies. There are four major views on the relation between the concepts of love and commitment: that they are identical, completely independent, largely overlapping but partially independent, and that commitment is a component of love. From a variety of findings obtained across the six studies, it was concluded that the layperson's conception of these concepts fits best with the view that they are largely overlapping but partially independent concepts. Overall, the results from these studies suggested that people need not be able to define "love" or "commitment" in order to use these concepts in a predictable and orderly way. Prototype methodology was successful in uncovering the content and structure of the concepts of love and commitment, and in elucidating the everyday person's view of the relation between these concepts.

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