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Quadrant, 1985, January/February, 39-40.


John Ray

Australia has never seemed a particularly religious place and, as a consequence, the moral causes that are often associated with religion often seem merely risible today. With the lonely exception of the Rev. Fred Nile, advocating that girls should remain virgins until they marry is not the path to political office. This is in some contrast to the undoubted influence of the "Moral Majority" movement in the United States. "Wowsers" have just never been popular in Australia. Sexual permissiveness is now the order of the day. Those who advocate anything else seem lost somewhere in the last century.

One consequence of this is that the arguments raised by moral conservatives receive little serious attention outside the circle of those already convinced. The arguments by the moral conservatives that they stand "for the family" and that permissiveness puts sex before love just do not persuade. The idea that happiness is to be found in self-control rather than self-indulgence seems impossibly Victorian.

In fact the moral libertarians claim almost the opposite: "Self-expression" is a supreme psychological virtue and "bastards" have now become "love-children". Leftist psychologists such as Fromm [1] even claim that Leftists are "biophilic" (life-affirming) whilst rightists are "necrophilic" (death affirming). "Love" and "doing your own thing" were certainly intimately associated as catchcries of the "Hippie" movement.

Are we in such circumstances to say that it is all a matter of opinion? Must we conclude that no-one can tell which side is right? Since what we are talking about -- love and happiness -- could hardly be more important it would seem regrettable if we had no way of telling which of the two prescriptions led to it. Is it permissiveness or is it restraint that leads to love and happiness? Surely there must be some evidence on the question. Each side has "authorities" that it appeals to (from the Bible to Sigmund Freud) and each side can relate anecdotes in support of its own cause but where is the attempt to provide objective evidence either way? Surely there must be some way of finding out what generally are the results of sexual restraint versus sexual permissiveness?

One first step in this direction would seem to be some of survey. Simple-minded though it may be, might it not be of interest to find out just what members of the two camps think about love? Which side really is more love-oriented? Which side believes most in the primacy, potency and power of love? Is it the permissives or is it the conservatives? Some time ago I carried out a survey designed to answer just this question and I wish to present its results below:

The survey took advantage of the fact that in 1978 two American psychologists (Munro and Adams) [2] published an "inventory" of love attitudes. They devised a set of standard questions which could be used to explore the full range of attitudes which people had towards love. They found in their research that love attitudes could be divided into three categories, which they called "Romantic Ideal", "Conjugal-rational Love" and "Romantic Power". Their "inventory" lists a number of statements for expressing each type of attitude and I give some examples: "Love is the essence of life" is a Romantic Ideal statement; "A decision to marry should come from serious thinking, not just a feeling of love" is a Conjugal-rational Love statement and "True love never dies; it surmounts all obstacles" is a Romantic Power statement.

I decided therefore to include the Munro-Adams Love Inventory in a questionnaire being mailed out to 1200 addressees in New South Wales and Queensland. The addressees were chosen at random from the electoral rolls. Also included was a set of questions such as are usually used to check on moral attitudes: Examples were: "Any woman should be, entitled to an abortion, if she wants, one; "Homosexuality should be legally permitted''; "Sex relations except in marriage are always wrong" and "Divorce in Australia has now become too easy''. Each person could thus be given a score in his degree of moral conservatism according to how many conservative statements he agreed with and how many permissive statements he rejected.

Thirty-one per cent of those who received it answered the questionnaire: From their replies it was found that the answers to the various questions did hang together as expected. Questions expressing the three different types of love attitude did tend to be answered similarly and the questions on moral issues did tend to be answered similarly. Statistically, this is expressed by saying that the coefficients "alpha" for the four "scales" (sets of statements) were .85 for conservatism, .74 for Conjugal Love, .84 for Romantic Love and .88 for Romantic Power. The three types of love attitude were however themselves correlated and showed an overall alpha of .89. This is a degree of internal consistency for the four scales which psychologists would normally regard as highly encouraging.

The correlations between scores on the moral conservatism scale and the scores on the different types of love, attitude were as follows: Romantic Love .323, Conjugal Love .288, Romantic Power .393 and overall attitude to love (summing across the three sub-types) .432. This means that it was much more likely for a moral conservative than for a moral libertarian to be love-oriented. There were people who believed in love in both camps but the conservatives believed in it more. The last correlation reported (.432) is in fact quite a healthy one by the standard of what is generally reported in the psychological research literature and thus means that conservatism must be taken very seriously as an influence on overall love attitudes. All correlations were also statistically significant (p < .05).

A final finding of interest concerns State differences. Queensland is reputed to be particularly conservative as Australian States go. Is it also then true , that Queenslanders are more love-oriented? The Table inset gives the average scores on the various scales for residents of the two States surveyed. It will be seen that Queenslanders were indeed more conservative on moral issues, more love-oriented and greater believers in the power of love. The differences on Conjugal Love and Romantic Love were however, insignificant.


Means (and S.D.s) on attitude scales for samples of two Australian States and their capital cities. Columns 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 are paired and significant (p < .05) differences are starred.


Conservatism.............. 26.41(7.36).....29.53(6.73)*.....29.41(6.60)....25.70(7.15)*
Att. Love.......................65.30(8.14).....67.10(8.99)*......66.46(9.04)....64.22(7.56)*
Rom. Pow....................19.86(5.31)......21.46(5.08)*.....21.12(5.16)....19.23(5.21)*
Rom. Love....................24.70(2.89).....24.89(3.14).......24.84(3.31)....24.63(2.65)
Conj. Love....................20.72(2.88).....20.74(3.10).......20.49(3.28)....20.35(2.90)

No. of people....................158.................219....................104...............98

Another finding of the survey that may be of some interest is that overall attitude to love correlated .28 with age and -.29 with education. This means that there is some tendency for the more love-oriented citizens to be older and less highly educated.

It may well seem difficult to grasp that the State generally conceived of as the most reactionary in the country should be characterised by a greater belief in the power of love. Are these the same voters who repeatedly give power to their almost "fascist" Premier, the redoubtable Johannes Bjelke-Petersen? So to ask, however, is to confuse some correlation with perfect or high correlation. Any voting community only needs to lean slightly to the Left or Right for a government of the Left or Right to achieve power. In fact, Federal voting intention was one of the questions asked in the survey and it showed no significant correlation with attitude to love. The characteristics of Queenslanders are not necessarily those of conservatives. In the 1983 Federal election Queensland in fact returned Labor Party members in a majority of House of Representatives seats. The Queensland difference then is probably more attributable to the higher quality of life in Queensland than to greater Queensland conservatism. Life is much more calm and peaceful in the smaller Queensland cities than in the frenetic Sydney metropolis. That a calm and peaceful (yet affluent) environment should lead to greater optimism about the finer things in life is less hard to understand.

It must be noted, however, that State electoral choice was not obtained in the present survey and that morals issues in Australia are essentially a State government matter. Queensland Premier Bjelke-Petersen has taken a strong stand against permissive morality and it is notable from Table 1 that Queenslanders were in fact shown as more conservative on morals issues. The fact that the correlation between attitude to love and moral conservatism was fairly high (as such correlations go) does then leave it as a not quite completely dismissable hypothesis that Queensland attitudes to love may be simply a reflection of greater conservatism - but conservatism of one particular (moral) sort only.

The correlations of the attitude to love scale appear to vindicate the claim by morals campaigners that they are "for the family". Permissiveness goes with cynicism about love. A stress on cynicism as the intervening variable is also consistent with the effect of education. If education makes you less optimistic about the power of love, this could be due to a tendency of education to make you more cynical (perhaps higher education in particular?). This hypothesis could be tested on some later occasion by use of one of the several cynicism scales available. On the other hand, age generally seems to make one more cynical but greater age in the present data went with less cynicism about the power of love. This suggests that cynicism about things generally may not have all that much to do with attitudes to love.

What the present results may most clearly imply, then, is that a belief in the power, necessity and importance of love is becoming increasingly old-fashioned in our society. If so, one can only mourn for future generations.


1. Fromm, E. The heart of man, N.Y.: Harper, 1964

2. Munro, B. & Adams, G.R.: "Love American style: a test of role structure theory on changes in attitude to love". Human Relations, 1978, 31, 215-228.


For a report of other aspects of this survey, see also:

Ray, J.J. (1987) Conservatism and attitude to love: An empirical rebuttal of Eisler & Loye. Personality & Individual Differences, 8, 731-732.

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