February 9, 2004

Edwards seminar explores psychology of love

By Rachel Robertson

David Edwards admits that his Psychology of Love seminar is a bit far afield of his behavioral neuroscience research with rats, or his most recent studies relating gonadal and adrenal hormones to athletic ability and performance.

What inspired Edwards, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology, to teach a course on love were two books he read in close succession: Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love by Dorothy Tennov and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. They are very different kinds of books--the first an academic work and the second a fictional love story--but both deal with the experience of "being in love."  

In her book, Tennov coined the term "limerence" to connote the out-of-control, emotional-roller-coaster state (commonly termed "being in love") to separate this particular state from all the other ways in which people use the word "love."

"Reading this book was an epiphany for me," Edwards said. "I've been limerent many times. The feelings were powerful and exciting, but there was also a lot of agony. And I thought these feelings were totally unique to me. The fact that other people could have them with the same intensity and all the same symptoms was an eye opener.

"And," he continued, "it was also a revelation that limerence isn't the same thing--or even necessarily the proper basis for--the kind of thing most people want in their long-term love relationships."

Márquez' Love in the Time of Cholera is the tale of an unrequited love that endures for 50 years.

"I loved that book too," Edwards said. "It occurred to me that I could teach a course about love, using a wide variety of source materials, with these two books as my starting point."

Edwards also employs different methods of teaching. Being a small seminar, class time mostly consists of student-led discussions. Junior Anna Krueger found that she's learning about more than the topic area.

"[Edwards] wants us to develop our discussion abilities--how to discuss things and think through something and present it to the class," she said.

Edwards also challenges the students with an unusual role-playing exercise to help them apply what they learn from Keeping the Love You Find by Harville Hendrix . The author contends that adults' "love problems" can be traced back to shortcomings in caretaking and socialization during development that cause people to become "stuck" with a particular relationship style. In the exercise, students create characters for themselves based on this idea, and one class is designed as a group therapy session where students play out their fictional personalities.

Another assignment probably is unlike any other class project they will do at Emory. The students negotiate individually with Edwards about what form the assignment will take; past projects have included research papers, personal essays, sculptures, paintings, videos, short stories, a screenplay, poems and even musical and dance compositions.

"What I'm looking for is a project that is going to engage the student--something he or she can be passionate about," Edwards said. "It's an opportunity for students to do something different, a chance for them to grow in unexpected ways."

Indeed, it is privilege to even get into the class. This semester Edwards interviewed almost 50 students to select the 15 who made it in.

"I try to pick people who will make their own unique contributions to class discussions in ways that bring out the very best in their classmates," he said. "So I'm really looking for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts."

"This class is so unique to Emory's curriculum," said business school senior Rebecca Sergay. "It asks for diversity and individuality, and it truly tests your beliefs. I can honestly say as a graduating senior that this is the best class I've taken at Emory."