Formation of Romantic Relationships

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Factors Influencing Attraction


  • more than half of 5000 couples applying for a marriage licence lived 5 minutes walk from Eachother (Bussard 1932)


  • proximity increases oppurtunities for exposure 
  • Zajonc (1968)-more interaction leads to greater liking
  • Argyle (1983)-the more we interact the more alike we become 


  • when we first interact similarity is important 
  • Newcomb (1961) found that students were much more likely to form friendships when they were paired with someone with similar beliefs/attitudes
  • Byrne et al(1968)- only when similarity was related to topics of importance that it affected attraction 
  • Rubin (1973)-similarity is rewarding in terms of shared activites 
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Factors Influencing Attraction cntd

Physical Attractiveness 

  • We are more likely to want to form relationships with physically attractive people physically attractive people are often judged as nicer then less attractive people 

The Matching Hypothesis 

  • We look for partners who are of a similar level of attractiveness, as even though we might look for the most attractive partner we know we are unlikely to get or keep them 
  • Research-Murstein(1972)-photos of 'steady'/engaged couples were compared to random couples. The Real Couples were consistently judged to be more similar to each other in physical attractivenes then the random pairs 
  • Supported by Silverman (1971) who got people to rate dating couples in bars 
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Models of Relationship Formation

The Filter Model (Kerkhoff & Davies(1962)

  • through different filters - different factors are important at different times
  • Potential partners are filtered so that the ‘field of…availables’ is narrowed down to a relatively small field of desirables - those we consider potential partners.


  • Proximity is the most obvious filter:
  • Festinger et al. (1950) friendship patterns among retired, married servicemen and their wives living in two quite different halls of residence while studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology were observed. Two findings soon became apparent:
  • people became friendly with those who were in neighbouring rooms, and those friendships were deepest
  • people living in the more central positions, nearest to the communal rooms and stairwells, had a wider circle of friends than those living furthest down the hall.




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Models of Relationship Formation Pt. 2


  •  Social and/or cultural similarity is also thought to narrow down our ‘field of eligibles’.
  • Newcomb (1961) Randomly allocated a group of 17 male students to share rooms in a boarding house while they were studying at Michigan University. At the end of the year 58% of those paired with room-mate with similar attitudes formed friendships as opposed to friendships between 25% of those with dissimilar room-mates.

Physical attractiveness

  •  Walster and Berscheid's 'computer dance' experiment
  • A computer dance was advertised during freshers week at a college.
  • A total of 752 males and females attended for just $1.00.
  • Each student was independently assessed by judges for attractiveness when they signed up.
  • Students were then randomly paired by a computer (except no man went with a taller woman).
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Models of Relationship Formation Pt. 3

  • During the dance and again 2 days later students completed questionnaires about the dance and their dates.
  • That physical attractiveness was the most important factor in liking.The most physically attractive students were liked more by their dance partners.
  • Physical attractiveness was a good indicator of whether they would see each other again.
  • Six months later when asked if the participants had seen their date again they found that the participants were more likely to have dated if they were of similar attractiveness.
  • Field of Availables
  • Social/Demographic
  • Dating
  • Similar Attitudes
  • Potential Long Term Partner 
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Evaluation of Filter Model +

+  Research support from 7 month longitudinal study of students by Kerckhoff & Davies, 1962- those in relationships up to 18 months , attitude similarity most important, after 18 months, psychological compatibility and ability to meet each others’ needs more important.

+ support from  Sprecher (1998), couples who were matched for physical attractiveness, social background and interests were more likely to develop a long term relationship; also those of similar educational level were more likely to be together after 21 years ( Gruber-Baldini et al, 1995)

+ It is a useful way to think about the influential factors at different points in relationship.

+  It emphasises the importance of demographic factors and similarity of attitudes


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Evaluation of Filter Model -

- Dividing  relationships into stages oversimplifies their fluidity and dynamism. In real life, relationships flow seamlessly.

- Winch (1958) argued for opposites, however similarities have been found to be important. Burgess & Wallin (1953) obtained information from 1000 engaged couples. There was significant within couple similarities in personality (e.g. emotional reactions and feelings)

  - Are they in relationship because they are similar and meet each others needs or have they developed like this because of relationship

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Reward/need satisfaction theory

Based on the view that self-interest is the key motive Who do we find rewarding? Who fullfils our needs?

Pause for a key question: Is it true that we only make/sustain relationships in order to satisfy our needs, and gain rewards?

2 examples of this perspective (which reflect a behavioural perspective-IDA):  

1. Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory (Argyle,1994):

People hope to  fulfill basic motives or needs which include: biological(e.g eating together), dependency; affiliation; dominance; sex; aggression; self-esteem

2. Reinforcement-Affect model (Byrne & Clore,1974):

‘Reinforcement’ leads us to want those who reward us (operant conditioning) ‘Affect’ refers to the positive feelings associated with a good experience- e.g. if we associate a person with good times.(Classical conditioning)               


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Evaluation of Reward/need satisfaction theory

Support for the General claim of the theory: the claim is that we like some individuals, because they provide direct reinforcement. Supported by Griffitt & Guay (1969).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(rewarded) the participant’s performance.

Smith & Mackie- people who report their needs are met are happy in their relationships whereas those whose needs aren’t met report being less happy

Support for Liking by association-A claim of the theory is that we like people who are associated with pleasant events. Griffitt & Guay (1969) study. Participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter showed that onlookers were rated more highly if associated with condition of positive evaluation.

Cunningham (1988)- happy or sad film-Happy led to more positive interaction

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Methodological: many of the studies-including Griffit & Guay, and Cunningham are lab studies, therefore they lack mundane realism.

How important are rewards? The model only explores the receiving of rewards. Hays (1985), in a study of college students, found that we gain satisfaction from giving as well as receiving. Cultural  and Gender Differences: Lott (1994) suggests that in many cultures, women are more focused on the needs of others, rather than receiving reinforcement. Lott also suggests that in non-western, collectivist cultures there is little concern for receipt of rewards in social relationships. (IDA- Gender Bias, Culture Bias) Some people may object to the idea of human romantic love/relationships being reduced to stimulus response or conditioning because it is reductionalist

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Comparison of Theories

  • Both suggest that long-term relationships are more like ly to be formed if partners meet each others needs but differ regarding when this becomes important
  • Filter model is more descriptive than explanatory.
  • Rewards/Needs has its basis in a theoretical perspective.
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