The Evolutionary Origins of the Five Love Languages

Andreas Hofer
4 min readJul 13, 2022

The Five Love Languages (1992) by Gary Chapman has been a highly popular concept, which has received much more attention from the general public than academics, however. This makes his books appear in the category “self-help” rather than science. It is a shame, because variation in human behaviour and “programming” should draw the attention of evolutionary psychologists. Moreover, a 2006 study by Nicole Egbert and Denise Polk suggests that the Five Love Languages might have some degree of psychometric validity.

The obvious appeal of the Five Love Languages lies in finding compatibility and potential problems in a relationship. Moreover, there seems to be some evolutionary selection in place, as people generally tend to be the same regarding the love languages they give and would like to receive. My highest priority is “quality time” and it really ranks so far above all others that a potential partner who expects a lot of “gift-giving” would certainly be disappointed. I suck at gift-giving. It’s not that I don’t like giving and receiving small gifts, but it has to be spontaneous, I hate occasions like birthdays and Valentine’s Day. In general, I struggle with the social norms of gift-giving. And it looks like I am not the only INFP to do so, here is an average for INFPs from an online survey:

The website 16 Personalities (based on Myers-Briggs) has done among different personality types with a modified version of the Love Languages and the results are quite interesting: For SJ (guardian) types the most important love language turned out to be acts of service, for SP (artisan) types it was gifts and word of affirmation, for NF (diplomat) types if was a mix of time, touch, random gifts and words of affirmation. The odd one out was the rational (NT) temperament, who was happiest with cerebral stimulation and being appreciated for their competence. Needless to say, the NT temperament is at the far end of what we consider “romantic” and can be expected to struggle romantically. Indeed, an NF friend once complained to me that her husband never tells her “I love you, anymore”. When she asked him about this he merely replied “I have told you once that I love you and I will tell you when it’s not true anymore”.

In courtship, there are societal expectations, which may easily lead to misunderstandings. NF types often are misunderstood to have romantic interests because they are generally kind. With NT types the opposite is often true, just think of Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones . People like Mark Darcy are severely handicapped on the mating market. However, teaching them how to be more “charming” would also not be very effective as they wouldn’t feel authentic. The origin of the problem can be found in our evolutionary history, IMHO.

Different subsistence strategies required different kinds of bonds between men and women. For foragers (hunter-gatherers) gift-giving (showing economic priority) is much less important as most food and the few material possessions are generally shared than for food-producing farmers and pastoralists. Also, for farmers, who had the highest workload in the past, it makes sense that showing readiness to help has the highest priority. Pastoralists are generally high on what psychologists call “mating effort” which is possibly due to their difficult life circumstances and faster life-history strategy (shorter lifespans). You can imagine pastoralist types having a chivalrous attitude, showing off physical prowess, “fighting for the princess” attitude and a lot of flattering words.

From the point of view of evolutionary psychology we would therefore get the following picture:

This is basically what David Keirsey had hypothesised and Helen Fisher has found in empirical studies. Here is Fisher’s terminology and assortative mating groups.

The Five Love Languages would therefore be an evolutionary part of assortative mating. The difficulty of partnerships across these temperaments based on subsistence strategies also becomes apparent when we look at intermarriages between tribes that still practice subsistence economies:

Today, a few Hadza women marry into neighbouring groups such as the Bantu Isanzu [farmers] and the Nilotic Datoga [pastoralists], but these marriages often fail and the woman and her children return to the Hadza. (Wikipedia)

Gary Chapman, an author and radio host, discovered something that should have gotten far more attention from academia than it actually has.

Dedicated to Julia P., who made me take the Love Languages test.

For more on evolutionary types and romantic love check out my book Dating and mating for the confused and completely clueless

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on July 13, 2022.

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