Two children showing affection

Affection or fondness is a "disposition or state of mind or body"[1] commonly linked to a feeling or type of love. It has led to multiple branches in philosophy and psychology that discuss emotion, disease, influence, and state of being.[2] Often, "affection" denotes more than mere goodwill or friendship. Writers on ethics generally use the word to refer to distinct states of feeling, both lasting and temporary. Some contrast it with passion as being free from the distinctively sensual element.[3]

Affection can elicit diverse emotional reactions such as embarrassment, disgust, pleasure, and annoyance. The emotional and physical effect of affection also varies between the giver and the receiver.[4]

Restricted definition

A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek.

Sometimes the term is restricted to emotional states directed towards living entities, including humans and animals. Affection is often compared with passion,[5] stemming from the Greek word pathos. Consequently, references to affection are found in the works of philosophers such as René Descartes,[6] Baruch Spinoza,[7] and early British ethicists. Despite these associations, it is commonly differentiated from passion on various grounds. Some definitions of affection exclude feelings of anxiety or heightened excitement, elements typically linked to passion. In this narrower context, the term holds significance in ethical frameworks, particularly concerning social or parental affections, forming a facet of moral duties[3] and virtue. Ethical perspectives may hinge on whether affection is perceived as voluntary.[8]


Further information: Public display of affection

Affection can be communicated by looks, words, gestures, or touches. It conveys love and social connection. The five love languages explains how couples can communicate affections to each other.[9] Affectionate behavior may have evolved from parental nurturing behavior due to its associations with hormonal rewards.[10][verification needed] Such affection has been shown to influence brain development in infants, especially their biochemical systems and prefrontal development.[11]

Affectionate gestures can become undesirable if they insinuate potential harm to one's welfare. However, when welcomed, such behavior can offer several health benefits.[clarification needed] Some theories suggest that positive sentiments enhance individuals' inclination to engage socially, and the sense of closeness fostered by affection contributes to nurturing positive sentiments among them.[12]

Benefits of affection

Affection exchange is an adaptive human behavior that benefits well-being. Expressing affection brings emotional, physical, and relational gains for people and their close connections. Sharing positive emotions yields health advantages like reduced stress hormones, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.[13] Expressing affection, not merely feeling affection, is internally rewarding. Even if not reciprocated, givers still experience its effects.

Parental relationships

Affectionate behavior is frequently considered[by whom?] an outcome of parental nurturing, tied to hormonal rewards. Both positive and negative parental actions may have connections to[vague] health issues in later life. Neglect and abuse result in poorer well-being and mental health, contrasting with affection's positive effects. A 2013 study highlighted the impact of early child abuse and lack of affection on physical health.[14]


Affectionism is a school of thought that considers affections to be of central importance. Although it is not found in mainstream Western philosophy, it does exist in Indian philosophy.[15]

See also

  • Affectional bond – An attachment behavior one person has for another
  • Affectional orientation – Classification of a person's romantic attraction towards others
  • Affective filter – Hypotheses of second-language acquisition
  • Affective videogames – Area of research in computer science aiming to understand the emotional state of users
  • Attraction – The study of the attraction between people that leads to friendship or romance
  • Crush – Feelings of love, romance, or infatuation felt by young people
  • Doctrine of the affections – Theory in the aesthetics of painting, music, and theatre, widely used in the Baroque era
  • Emotion – Conscious subjective experience of humans
  • The Four Loves – 1960 book by C. S. Lewis
  • Hug – Form of endearment
  • Infatuation – Intense but shallow attraction
  • List of emotions – Contrast of one emotion from another
  • Social connection – Term in psychology referring to the experience of feeling close and connected to others
  • Terms of endearment – Phrase expressing affection


  1. ^ "Affection". Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Francis Hutcheson on the Emotions". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17th and 18th Century Theories of Emotions. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Affection". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 299–300.
  4. ^ "The Effects of Affection". Research Matters. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  5. ^ Fernández, Damián J. (1 January 2010). Cuba and the Politics of Passion. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292782020. Retrieved 19 November 2017 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Descartes, René. "The Passions of the Soul" (PDF). Early Modern Philosophy. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  7. ^ LeBuffe, Michael (19 November 2017). "Spinoza's Psychological Theory". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  8. ^ Sidgwick, Henry. "The Methods of Ethics" (PDF). Early Modern Philosophy. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  9. ^ David O., Oduse. "Understanding The Five Love Languages And How It Affects Your Relationships". Dating Reporter's Blog. Archived from the original on 2021-04-10. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  10. ^ Floyd, Kory; Hesse, Colin; Mark A., Generous (2021). "Affection exchange theory: A bio-evolutionary look at affectionate communication". In Braithwaite, Dawn (ed.). Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: multiple perspectives (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-003-19551-1. OCLC 1248603023.
  11. ^ Gerhardt, Sue (24 October 2014). Why love matters : how affection shapes a baby's brain. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-63579-6. OCLC 883460873.
  12. ^ Lawton, Leora; Silverstein, Merril; Bengtson, Vern (Feb 1994). "Affection, Social Contact, and Geographic Distance between Adult Children and Their Parents" (PDF). Journal of Marriage and the Family. 56 (1): 57–68. doi:10.2307/352701. JSTOR 352701. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-16.
  13. ^ Boudreau, Diane (February 8, 2013). "Study: Expressing love can improve your health". ASU News.
  14. ^ Rivero, Enrique (September 30, 2013). "Lack of parental warmth, abuse in childhood linked to multiple health risks in adulthood". UCLA Newsroom.
  15. ^ Merrell-Wolff, Franklin (1995). Transformations in Consciousness: The Metaphysics and Epistemology: Containing His Introceptualism. State University of New York Press. p. 45. ISBN 0-7914-2675-0.