Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

This article is in need of attention from a psychologist/academic expert on the subject.
Please help recruit one, or improve this page yourself if you are qualified.
This banner appears on articles that are weak and whose contents should be approached with academic caution


Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations. This term is sometimes associated with other terms such as true altruism, complete love, or "mother's love." Each area of expertise has a certain way of describing unconditional love, but most will agree that it is that type of love which has no bounds and is unchanging. It is a concept comparable to true love, a term which is more frequently used to describe love between lovers. By contrast, unconditional love is frequently used to describe love between family members, comrades in arms and between others in highly committed relationships. An example of this is a parent's love for their child; no matter a test score, a life changing decision, an argument, or a strong belief, the amount of love that remains between this bond is seen as unchanging and unconditional.

In religion, unconditional love is thought to be part of The Four Loves; affection, friendship, romance, and unconditional.[1] In ethology, or the study of animal behavior, unconditional love would refer to altruism which in turn refers to the behavior by individuals that increases the fitness of another while decreasing the fitness of the individual committing the act. In psychology, unconditional love would refer to a state of mind in which the individual has the goal of increasing the welfare of another, despite any evidence of benefit for them self. The term is also widely used in family and couples counseling manuals.

Conditional love[edit | edit source]

Some authors make a distinction between unconditional love and conditional love. In conditional love: love is 'earned' on the basis of conscious or unconscious conditions being met by the lover, whereas in unconditional love, love is 'given freely' to the loved one 'no matter what'. Loving first. Conditional love requires some kind of finite exchange, whereas unconditional love is seen as infinite and measureless. Unconditional love necessitates unconditional dedication: unconditional dedication refers to an act of the will irrespective of feelings (e.g. a person may consider they have a duty to stay with a person, predicated of their unconditional love and the suffering that abandonment would cause the other).

Unconditional love separates the individual from her or his behaviors. However, the individual may exhibit behaviors that are unacceptable in a particular situation. To begin with a simple example: one acquires a puppy. The puppy is cute, playful, and the owner's heart swells with love for this new family member. Then the puppy urinates on the floor. The owner does not stop loving the puppy, but needs to modify the behavior through training and education.

Humanistic psychology[edit | edit source]

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers spoke of an unconditional positive regard. Rogers stated that the individual needed an environment that provided them with genuineness, authenticity, openness, self-disclosure, acceptance, empathy, and approval.[2]
Also Abraham Maslow supported the unconditional perspective by saying that in order to grow, an individual had to have a positive perspective of themselves.[3]

Neurological basis[edit | edit source]

There has been some evidence to support a neural basis for unconditional love, showing that it stands apart from other types of love.

In a study conducted by Mario Beauregard and his colleagues, using an fMRI procedure, they studied the brain imaging of participants who were shown different sets of images either referring to "maternal love" (unconditional love) or "romantic love". Seven areas of the brain became active when these participants called to mind feelings of unconditional love. Three of these were similar to areas that became active when it came to romantic love. The other four active parts were different, showing certain brain regions associated with rewarding aspects, pleasurable (non sexual) feelings, and human maternal behaviors are activated during the unconditonal love portions of the experiment. Through the associations made between the different regions, results show that the feeling of love for someone without the need of being rewarded is different from the feeling of romantic love.[4]

Along with the idea of "mother's love", which is associate with unconditional love, a study found patterns in the neuroendocrine system and motivation-affective neural system. Using the fMRI procedure, mother's watched a video of them playing with their children in a familiar environment, like home. The procedure found part of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens were responsive on levels of emotion and empathy. Emotion and empathy (compassion) are descriptives of love, therefore it supports the idea that the neural occurrences are evidence of unconditional love.[5]

Religious perspective[edit | edit source]

Christianity[edit | edit source]

In Christianity, the term "unconditional love" would be more accurately expressed as Christ's forgiveness. It may also be used to indicate God's love for a person irrespective of that person's love for God. The term is not explicitly used in the Bible and advocates for God's conditional or unconditional love, using different passages or interpretations to support their point of view, are both encountered. It may be considered to be closely associated with another non-explicitly biblical, but commonly encountered saying: "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin".

While the phrase has never been used in its official teachings documents the then head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II was recorded as saying during a homily in San Francisco, in September 1987, that God "loves us all with an unconditional, everlasting love". He explored issues touching upon this theme in his work Dives in Misericordia (1980) in which the parable of the Prodigal Son becomes a framework for exploring the issue of God's mercy. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as saying “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality”.[6]

Other religions[edit | edit source]

Neopaganism in general, and Wicca in particular, commonly use a traditional inspirational text, Charge of the Goddess, affirming that the Goddess's "law is love unto all beings".

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. Lewis, C.S. (1960). The Four Loves, Ireland: Harvest Books.
  2. Rogers, C. (1973). The Interpersonal Relationship: The Core of Guidance. In Raymond M. Maslowski, Lewis B. Morgan (Eds.), Interpersonal Growth and Self Actualization in Groups (pp. 176-189). MSS Information Corporation. ISBN 0842202897.
  3. Maslow, A.H. (1961). Peak Experiences as Acute Identity Experiences. Am. J. Psychoanal. 21: 254–260.
  4. (2009-05-15)The neural basis of unconditional love. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 172 (2): 93–98.
  5. Atzil, Shir, Talma Hendler, Ruth Feldman (2011). Specifying the neurobiological basis of human attachment: Brain, hormones, and behavior in synchronous and intrusive mothers.. Neuropsycholpharmacology 36: 2603–2615.
  6. The Star’s editorial. Kansas City Star. URL accessed on 2012-04-10.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Kramer, J. and Alstead D., The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, 1993, ISBN 1-883319-00-5
  • Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, 1998, ISBN 0-8050-5826-5
  • Schnarch, David, Constructing the Sexual Crucible; An Integration of Sexual and Marital Therapy,
  • Schnarch, David, Resurrecting Sex: Resolving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship.
  • Stendhal, On Love: The Classic Analysis of Romantic Love
  • Tennov, Dorothy, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, 1999
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.