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Theories of relationship formation
Reward/need satisfaction theory Byrne & Clore 1970.
We're attracted to people who we find satisfying or gratifying to be with. People enter a
relationship with their own needs (financial, sexual, or the need for company) and mutual
attraction occurs when one persons needs are met by another person.
Rewards/Punishments: Most stimuli is either viewed as rewarding or punishing. We are
motivated to receive rewarding stimuli and avoid punishing ones. Rewarding stimuli
produce positive feelings, negative stimuli the opposite. People can be stimuli, explaining
why some people make us happy and others don't.
OPERANT CONDITIONING- We're likely to repeat behaviour that leads to a desirable
outcome and avoid behaviours that lead to undesirable outcomes. Thus Byrne & Clore's
theory suggest we enter relationships because the presence of some individuals is linked
with reinforcement, which makes them more attractive to us.
CLASSICAL CONDITIONING- We also like people who are associated with pleasant
events. If we meet someone in a good mood, we're more inclined to like them than if we
met them when we're felling unhappy. Previous neutral stimulus can be positively valued
because of their association with a pleasant event.
Byrne & Clore believed balance of positive and negative feelings is crucial in maintaining
relationships: more positive than negative = relationship's more likely to succeed.…read more
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Support for idea that we like some individuals because they provide direct reinforcement comes
from research by Griffitt & Guay. Pp's were evaluated on a creative task by the experimenter and
then asked to rate how much they liked the experimenter. The rating was highest from those who had
been positively rated earlier on the task (operant conditioning). Another study by same people
supports the idea that classical conditioning can play a part in finding someone attractive: pp's had to
state how much they liked an onlooker; the onlooker was rated higher where the performance of the
pp had been rated more positively previously by the experimenter.
Aron et al found that pp's who measured high on a self-report questionnaire of romantic love also
showed strong activity in particular areas of the brain including the ventral tegmental (part of rewards
region). Early- stage intense love was associated with elevated levels of activity in reward regions of
the brain, rich in dopamine.
Cate et al asked 337 pp's had to assess their current relationship in terms of satisfaction and reward
level. Results showed that reward level was superior to all other factors in determining relationship
satisfaction. However a basic problem with the theory is that it only looks at the receiving of the
rewards whereas Hays (1985) found that we gain satisfaction from giving it as well as receiving it.
Lack of Mundane realism A lot of lab experiments so results can't be generalised to real life
situations. But some studies have been conducted on real life couples and do support claims of
Culturally biased Doesn't account for cultural and gender differences in the formation of
relationships. Lott (1994) suggests that in many cultures, women are more focused on needs of others
rather than receiving reinforcement, suggesting that this theory is not a universal explanation of
formation of relationships.…read more
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Similarity theory Byrne, Clore & Smeaton 1986.
According to the model there are 2 stages involved in relationship formination: 1st people sort
potential partners for dissimilarity, and then from the remaining, choose someone who is most
similar to themselves, specifically in terms of:
Personality Research has consistently shown people are more likely to attract to someone
who has similar traits. This isn't always so, but more often than not in a long term relationship,
the couple will be similar. Caspi & Herbener found married couples with similar personality
traits tend to be happier than those who are completely different.
Attitudes - The process of `attitude alignment' can often occur when partners find they have
disagreeing opinions on something, so one partner may modify their thinking to solve the
Rosenbaum suggested that dissimilarity is the most important factor in determining whether a
relationship will form. Dissimilarity repulsion hypothesis has been tested in different cultures
and found pp's were first attracted to each other because of similarity, and that, as they got to
know each other better, those who discovered more dissimilarities than similarities became
Yoshida argues the research conducted only represents a select few factors important to the
relationship formation and doesn't look at other factors such as Speakman et al found that
people often choose partners with a similar level of body fat to themselves.
Similarity is important in the formation of relationships for two reasons; first is that we
assume that by ruling out dissimilar people, we lessen the chance of being rejected as a
partner. Second, when other people share our attitudes, it tends to validate them, which in turn
works as a personal reward.…read more
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The filter theory Kerckoff & Davis (1962)
Relationships develop through 3 filters. They refer to the `field of availables' when individuals
filter out other people at different times, so the field is narrowed, to a relatively small `field of
desirables' who are the potential partners. The filters are:
Social/demographic variables - people who live near you and are often from the same or a
similar social class/background as you.
Similarity of attitudes and values Makes communication easier and allows the relationship
Complementarity of emotional needs This comes when the relationship is fairly long term
and is when they establish how they're going to meet each others needs.
They tested their model using a longitudinal study of student couples who'd been together for
18months or so. Had to complete several questionnaires over 7 months. It was found attitude
similarity was the most important factor up to about 18 months but after this, psychological
compatibility became more important. So model supported by study.
Evidence to support the idea that both demographic and attitudes are important in helping a
relationship to last as a study found that those who were matched on social background,
physical attractiveness and interested were more likely to develop a long term relationship.
However by dividing a relationship into stages it fails to account for the fluid nature of some
relationships so lacks mundane realism.…read more
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Theories of the maintenance of relationships
Social Exchange Theory - Thibaut & Kelley 1959
They view relationships like business transactions, which goes through 4 stages. 1)Sampling - observing
others. 2)Bargaining - prospective partners establish profit and loss. 3)Commitment - routines are
established. 4)Institutionalisation - couple settle down. Theory focuses on 2 aspects:
1)Profit and loss Individuals aim to maximise their rewards and minimise their costs. Rewards we may
receive from a relationship include company, sex, and being cared for, and costs include time, financial
investment and effort. Commitment to a relationship according to this theory is dependent on the
profitability of the outcome, of the rewards minus costs.
2)Comparison level A standard against which our relationships are judged. It's a product of past
experiences and general views of what we might expect from a specific relationship. If we judge the
potential profit in a new relationship is going to exceed out CL we will judge it as worth while, and visa
versa, impacting upon attraction levels. A related concept is the comparison level for alternatives, where
the person weighs up the potential increase in benefits from being with a different partner.
The idea of exchange can explain why some people remain in an abusive relationship, as the
investments are high (money and kids) and alternatives are low.
Support comes from looking at how people who are in relationships deal with potential threats. Study
asked pp's to rate attractiveness, and found those in relationships rated lower, as a way of protecting
Theory doesn't explain why some people leave relationships even if they have no alternatives, or how
great the difference has to be for the CL to be come unsatisfactory.
It's been described as selfish and reductionist as it breaks the motives for maintaining a relationship
into simple, self motivated steps. Perhaps this only happens in individualist cultures, who are more
renowned for short term relationships, a compared to collectivist cultures.…read more