PSYA3 Psychology relationships- Equity Theory


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Discuss the effectiveness of The Equity Theory at explaining how relationships are
maintained (5+10)
The Equity Theory states that relationships are maintained by individuals striving to maintain fairness
in their relationship. It is believed that individuals try to maximise the rewards from a relationship
(such as companionship, passion) and try to minimise their costs (such as time and money). According
to the Equity Theory, feeling inequity (such as giving and getting little in return) can lead to distress.
Equity does not mean equal, it is said to be possible for each partner to contribute different amounts
to the relationship and the relationship still be equitable. What is seen as `fair' is where one partners
benefits minus their costs equals their partner benefits minus their costs.
Stafford and Canary asked over 200 married couples to fill in a questionnaire measuring equity and
their relationship satisfaction. It was found that those who felt they benefited in their relationship
were more satisfied than those who felt under-benefited. These findings are consistent with the
predictions from the Equity theory and therefore show we are more satisfied in relationships if our
rewards outweigh our costs. A problem with this study though is an issue of research methods.
Questionnaires require self-report strategies therefore there may be an issue with the social
desirability effect. They might be answering the questions in a way that they believe the researchers
would want them too. Therefore this decreases the validity of the study.
Clark and Mills disagree with this theory as they believe that there is more to the maintenance of
relationships than just `economics'. The believe that partners can still be happy in a relationship if
they strive to fulfil by their partners needs, even if this means maximising costs.
However, it has been found that men and women may judge equity differently as gender
differences have been ignored. Steil and Weitman found that husbands who earned more than their
wives rated their jobs as more important, whereas if the wife earned more neither job was rated as
more important. Steil and Weitman concluded that this is because wives seek less for themselves
when it comes to comparable things, such as jobs, in a relationship.
Also, Biological Psychologists would say that maintenance of relationships is not down to equity, but
down to the hormone dopamine that is released when we feel happy. As well as this, the
Evolutionary approach would also state that men are seen to put in less to a relationship as they want
to spread their genes. That is why men are said to maintain equity in a relationship as the woman
want resources to support the child.
There is also an issue with Cultural Bias. All research is westernised therefore it cannot be
generalised to all cultures. Also, in some cultures there are arranged marriages and the partners have
no choice but to stay in these relationships. So even if inequity is present and they are distressed
they can't leave the marriage.
Finally, this theory is Deterministic as it states that in all situations of inequity we will feel distressed
and may even leave a relationship, also it states that we all strive to minimise our costs whilst
maximising our rewards. It neglects that we have any free will in the way we maintain our
relationships and neglects that we enjoy fulfilling our partners desires even if it increases our costs.


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