COB prof talks love, intimacy and ‘Her’

Aaron AhuviaLove and happiness.

Millions of people strive for these emotions every day.

Aaron Ahuvia studies them.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn marketing professor researches how love and happiness play critical roles in consumption.

“Love is something that evolved for interpersonal relationships to hold families and groups together,” Ahuvia said. “But today, people frequently take this ancient psychological system called love and apply it in a new way, so that they love products, activities, all sorts of things.”

Throughout Ahuvia’s research, he’s studied how certain products or brands can invoke love among consumers, even though there’s no concrete way to personify the relationship.

“People can sometimes love very abstract things, like freedom,” he said. “But because love evolved for people to connect with other people, the more personified something is, the easier it is for someone to love it.”

The recent film Her—which is nominated for five Academy Awards, including “Best Picture”—focuses on a relationship established between a person and a computer, or more specifically, a new advanced operating system named “Samantha.” Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, shares his needs and desires with “Samantha,” played by Scarlett Johansson, and their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other.

“This is a very extreme representation of something that happens in much more mild forms all the time,” Ahuvia said. “Twenty years ago, I interviewed a guy who really loved his Mac (computer). The Mac wasn’t nearly as advanced as ‘Samantha’ in the movie. So it was pretty much a one-way relationship, in which he did all the talking and the Mac did all the listening. But I remember him saying that the Mac wasn’t just ‘user friendly’ – it was ‘user intimate.’”

The movie takes that idea much further, Ahuvia said.

“It’s a computer, but it’s incredibly like a person,” he said. “And it’s not just any person, but it’s a really wonderful, nice person. That creates this very deep relationship between the two characters. What’s even more interesting, to me anyway, is how people can love things that aren’t that strongly anthropomorphic (or human-like).”

Ahuvia’s research about love and happiness coincide with the film’s theme, which explores the evolving nature and risks of intimacy in the modern world.

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