The formation of romantic relationships

Psychology 'A' AQA UNIT3

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Princess Natasha Daniel Psychology Mr Morrissey
Outline and evaluate the formation of romantic relationships (24 Marks)
The reward/need satisfaction theory (Byrne & Clore) suggests that we are attracted to people who
we find satisfying or gratifying to be with. The sort of things we find rewarding tend to reflect our
unmet needs e.g. financial security, an attractive partner etc. mutual attraction occurs when each
partner meets the other person's needs.
Byrne & Clore related this theory to the principles of Behaviourism suggesting that we enter into
relationships because the presence of some individuals is directly associated with reinforcement (i.e.
the person creates positive feelings us), which makes them more attractive to us. This behaviour is
called operant conditioning, where we are likely to repeat any behaviour that leads to a desirable
outcome and avoid behaviours that lead to an undesirable outcome.
Byrne & Clore also suggested that we can learn to like people through the process of classical
conditioning. They believed that the balance of positive and negative feelings was crucial in
relationship formation. Relationships where the positive feelings outweigh the negative feelings
were more likely to develop and succeed, whereas relationships where the negative feelings
outweighed the positive were likely to fail.
Griffit & Guay supported the principle of liking being linked to direct reinforcement. Participants
were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter and then asked to rate how much they liked
the experimenter. This rating was highest when the experimenter had positively evaluated (i.e.
rewarded) the participant's performance on the task.
Aron offered physiological support for the idea of reward being associated with the formation of
romantic relationships. He found that intense romantic love was associated with elevated levels of
activity in the brain. This physiological explanation could be seen to have adaptive value as the brain
reward system could have evolved to drive our ancestors to focus their courtship energy on specific
The importance of reward level in determining relationship satisfaction is demonstrated in Cate's
study. He asked 337 individuals to assess their current relationships in terms of reward level and
satisfaction. He found that reward level was superior to all other factors in determining relationship
satisfaction. However, a criticism of these findings is that the reward/need satisfaction theory only
explores the receiving of rewards whereas Hays found that we gain satisfaction from giving as well
as receiving.
However, the reward/need satisfaction theory is subject to cultural bias as the theory does not
account for cultural and gender difference in the formation of romantic relationships. For example,
Lott suggests that in many cultures women are more focused on the needs of others rather than
receiving reinforcement. This suggests that this theory is not a universal explanation of relationship
formation and therefore culturally biased as a result of imposed etic.
Byrne, Clore & Smeaton suggested that similarity is an important predictor of romantic relationship
formation. In this model, there are two distinct stages:
1. People first sort potential partners for dissimilarity, avoiding those whose personality or
attitudes appear too different from their own

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Princess Natasha Daniel Psychology Mr Morrissey
2. From the ones remaining, they're most likely to choose somebody who is similar to
Byrne's model emphasises similarity of personality and of attitudes. As time progresses people's
attitudes towards things become similar ­ this is called `attitude alignment'.
Condon supported the view that similarity was important in terms of romantic relationship formation
from the way that we assume that people similar to us will be more likely to like us which lessens the
chances of rejection.…read more


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