A2 Psychology - Relationships

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  • Created by: James
  • Created on: 21-05-13 19:55

Formation - Matching of hypothesis

People are attracted to those who have a similar level of physical attractiveness to their own.  We are likely to to seek out people similar to ourselves in other attributes such as IQ, athleticism, etc. This is called the matching hypothesis.

There are plenty of couples who appear mismatched, but proponents of the matching hypothesis are that these couples balance out in other areas.  In relationships where partners are mismatched there are several consequences such as the less attractive partner feeling insecure and jealous.

We dont seek the most physically attractive person but that we are attracted to individuals who match us in terms of physical attraction.

Research - Murstein (1972) Individuals who have an equal market value for physical attractiveness are more likely to engage in imediate relationships. Walster (1966) Physical attractiveness is the most important factor in liking. Silverman (1971) More physical attractiveness, the more physical intimacy.

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Formation - Matching of hypothesis evaluation


Research is not gender specific - Aronson et al (1966 - When using homosexual couples to investigate the matching hypothesis, physical attractiveness was still a main priority.

High ecologicasl validity - Silverman

Further empirical support - Berscheid (1971)


Physcial attraction as an explanation of interpersonal attraction provides only a partial explanation and is hence reductionist.

All research conducted on interpersonal attraction as an explanation is culturally specific

There appear to still be many couples who appear to be 'physically mismatched' and the matching hypothesis cannot explain this.

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Reward/Need satisfication model

We are attracted to people who we find satisfying/gratifying to be with.  Most stimuli in our lives can be viewed as being rewarding or punishing in some way.

Reward/Punishment - Rewarding stimuli produces positive feelings, negative stimuli produce negative feelings.  Operant conditioning suggests we repeat any behaviour leading to a desirable outcome and avoid those that dont.

We are attracted to people who are associated with pleasant events. They acquire positive value because of their association with something else that makes us happy. (classical conditioning) A relationship is likely to succeed when the positive feelings outweigh the negative feelings and likely to fail when negative outweigh the positive.

Other Factors

Proximity - Humans like familiar things, they make us feel safe and happy which is rewarding.

Exposure/Familiarity - Proximity increases possibilities of interaction, and so familiarity.

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Reward/Need satisfication model - continued

Physical attractiveness - Dion et al 1972 - We think that phsically attractive people have more attractive personalities, and rewarded with kudos for being with an attractive person. (Clifford and Walster, 1973) Teachers judge better looking students as more attractive.

Veitch and Griffitt 1976 - Rated the degree to which they liked a strange  based on the news they heard.

Cultural/Individual Differences - Does not account for cultural and gender differences in formation of relationships.  Suggesting it is not universal.

Mundane Realism - Studies were conducted in a lab environment.  Thus lack ecological validity

Accounts for research findings - The theory explains why factors such as proximity and similarity are important.

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Maintenance of romantic relationships - Social exc

Thaibaut and Kelley 1959

Profit and Loss - We aim to maximise our rewards and minimise our costs.  In our society, people exchange rescources with the expectation that they will gain a 'profit'.

Comparison level - Involves comparing the current relationship with the expectation of how rewarding the relationship should be.  It involves making a comparison between previous relationships and current relationship expectations.

Alternative comparison level - Where a person weighs up the potential 'rewards' with a different partner, minus the 'costs' assosiated with ending the current relationship.

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Maintenance of romantic relationships - Social exc

  • Real world application - Rusbult and Martz (1995) - Explained why some people stay in abusive relationships.  When investments are high (Children) and alternatives are low (No-where to live) this may be considered as a profit sitiuation.
  • Comparison level - Simpson et al - Participants rated members of the opposite sex much lower when in a relationship.
  • Main concern - Social exchnage theory presumes that people are only motivated to maintain a relationship out of selfish concern.  In non individualist cultures this may not be the case.
  • Culture Bias - Moghaddam 1998 - Argues that such 'economic' theories can only apply to western cultures.  In short term relationships there is likely to be more concern with give or take.  Long term relationships are likely to value 'security' over 'profit'.
  • Does not explain why people leave relationships despite having no alternative.
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Equity Theory

Walster (1978)

There are four proposed principals to equity theory.

1. People try to maximise their profits and decrease their negetive experiences.

2. The distribution of rewards is distributed equally.  I.e. I'll cook and you wash up.

3. Unfair or inequitable relationships produce dissatisfaction.

4. As long as the person who percieves the inequity feels that there is a chance to save the relationship, he or she will endeavour to re-establish equity.

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Evaluation of equtity theory

A: It does not see individuals as selfish in their relationships.

W: The value of a kiss, a cuddle or declaration of commitment can vary enormously depending on the situation.

W: Individual differences when it comes to ideas about inequity, Clark and Mills (1979) identidfied two types of couples the 'communal couples' (concern for the other motivates giving) and the 'exchange couples' (keeping-score)

W: May only be applicale to western countries.  Berman found that In group orientated indian societies the emphasis is on benefiting the poorest.  In competitive America it is considered preferable to reward personal achievement rather than make judgments based on need.

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The Breakdown of romantic relationships

Ducks Theory - Infinate amount of reasons for the breakdown - 3 main categories

1. Pre-existing doom - Incompatibility and failure are almost pre-destined.  E.g. a school girl marries her 50 year old teacher who is already a grandfather.

2. Mechanical Failure - Two people of goof will and good nature find that the simply cannot live together. (Most Common)

3. Sudden death - the discovery of betrayel or infidelity leads to the immediate termination of the relationship. 

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The Breakdown of romantic relationships Duck conti

Ducks Breakup model

Intrapsychic phase - thinking about negetive aspects but not discussing them with the other partner.

Dyadic phase - Confronting the other partner about the aspects from the intrapsychic phase.

Social phase - This involves working out what to do now that the relationship is practically over.

Grave-Dressing phase - Communicating a socially acceptable phase.

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Evaluation of ducks theory


  • It makes good common sense and can easilly be related to own and others experiences
  • The view of relationship dissolution rather than process is seen and widely accepted
  • Takes into account social context.
  • Real World application - identifies stages where things go wrong


  • Reductionist -Fails to explain what each stage means
  • Determinist - Assumes that the breakup of all relationships are based on five stages
  • Ignores free will
  • Cultural Differences i.e. in non-western arranged marriges commintment and family involvement is crucial.
  • Gender differences - men and women deal with breakups differently.

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Human Reproductive Behaviour

Natural Selection - Survival of the fittest - animals that are best adapted the their environment are more likely to survive.

Sexual Selection - Survival of the sexiest - if a particular trait increases the chances of survival then this trait will be passed onto future offspring.

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