Skip to main content

Embodied self-other overlap in romantic love: a review and integrative perspective

Abstract

Romantic love has long intrigued scientists in various disciplines. Social-cognitive research has provided ample evidence for overlapping mental representations of self and romantic partner. This overlap between self and romantic partner would contribute to the experience of love and has been found to be a predictor of relationship quality. Self-partner overlap has been mainly documented at the level of conceptual or narrative self, with studies showing confusion between one’s own and partner’s identity aspects, perspectives, and outcomes. But the self is not restricted to abstract, conceptual representations but also involves body-related representations, which, research has revealed, are linked to social-cognitive processes. In this article, we review the emerging evidence that romantic love involves not only a blurring of conceptual selves but also a reduction of the distinction between self and romantic partner at a bodily level. We discuss the potential function(s) of self-other overlap in romantic relationship at the level of body-related representations and consider possible mechanisms. We conclude with possible future directions to further investigate how romantic love engages embodied self-other representations involved in social interactions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Such an effect might occur because, as suggested by Hommel and Colzato (2015), a core aspect of interpersonal trust would be the ability to predict the behavior of the trustee.

  2. Note that the JSE involves processes that go beyond the direct action–perception links that trigger automatic imitation, since this phenomenon is still present even when the two actors cannot see each other (Quintard et al., 2018; Vlainic, Liepelt, Colzato, Prinz, & Hommel, 2010).

  3. The original action/task co-representation account proposed by Sebanz et al. (2003) explains the JSE by the social dimension of joint action, such that individuals automatically represent the other’s task. This interpretation however fails to account for the occurrence of similar effects in non-social contexts (Dolk et al., 2013). The referential coding account applies to any event (be it social or not) and thus can explain why JSE occurs in non-social contexts (Dolk et al., 2014).

  4. More precisely, it is assumed that the discrimination problem can be resolved by emphasizing feature codes that discriminate between (relevant) self-related representations and (irrelevant) other-related ones. In the context of the joint Simon task, such a feature is the spatial response location (left or right). Participants would thus give more weight to the spatial dimension, allowing to differentiate the alternative representations of self and other. Giving more weight to the spatial dimension reintroduces effects of spatial correspondence between response and stimuli, hence the JSE (Dolk et al., 2014).

  5. This echoes with Burris and Rempel’s (2008) work, which is built on the idea that the physical body plays a crucial role in psychological boundaries between self and not-self. Accordingly, a reduction of self-partner boundaries in romantic relationships should lead romantically involved individuals to be less focused on themselves as separate entities, and thus to feel less constrained by their physical body. In line with this, Burris and Rempel (2008) found that romantically involved individuals, compared to single individuals, reported to feel less separate and constrained by their physical body. Partnered individuals also demonstrated less sensitivity to bodily threat, suggesting that romantic love decreases the salience of the bodily domain of self-boundary. Thus, being in love affects how people process their own body in a way that is compatible with an embodied self-other overlap.

References

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cédric A. Bouquet.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Quintard, V., Jouffe, S., Hommel, B. et al. Embodied self-other overlap in romantic love: a review and integrative perspective. Psychological Research 85, 899–914 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01301-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01301-8