Interpersonal Relationships


What Makes a Species Social?

Social animals tend to have some basic features in common:

  • Cannot defend themselves from predators easily, so rely on cooperative defence from predators and competitors.
  • Tend to produce offspring that take a long time to rear and so rely on cooperative rearing of the young by the group.
  • Tend not to be able to hunt effectively on their own and rely on cooperative foraging or hunting.
1 of 36

Fundamental Need to Belong

  • Darwinian selection - Individuals who formed close relationships with others were more likely to survive and share resources (water, warmth and food) and to go on and reproduce.
  • Modern humans have a fundamental need to belong and a natural tendency to form relationships with others.
2 of 36

Relationships and Mood

  • People experience more positive mood around others (e.g. Berscheid & Reis), especially when there is a certain level of closeness and intimacy (Diener)
  • Students randomly paged through the day (Larson)
  • Asked to record 1) who they were with and 2) how they felt
  • Participants most happy when with their friends and then their family.
  • Least happy when they were alone or in a public space alone.
3 of 36

The Agony of Social Isolation

  • Lacking closeness with others induces feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety (Cacioppo et al)
  • Tilvis et al. measured cognition of 75 to 85 year olds at 1, 5 and 10 year follow ups. Results at the 10-year follow-up assessment revealed that loneliness independently predicted dementia.
  • Single people are at greater risk of suicide than those in relationships or those that are married (Stack).
4 of 36

Romantic Relationships and Psychological Health

  • People in satisfying romantic relationships are typically significantly happier than single people (Easterlin)


  • Happier people may have a higher chance of being in long-term relationships.
  • Positive emotional expressions on pictures in college yearbooks predicted marriage success 20 years later (Harker & Keltner)
5 of 36

Relationships and Physical Wellbeing

  • Women with advanced metastatic breast cancer lived significantly longer if they attended a support group (Holt & Lewis)
  • Medical students with good social networks showed stronger immune response to Hepatitis B vaccine (Glaser et al.)
  • Happily married patients had 30% higher survival chance 4 years after a heart attack compared to unhappily married patients (Coyne et al.)
6 of 36

Explaining these Effects: The Role of Social Suppo

Social support affects mental and physical health (Cohen & Wills)

  • Buffers stress which is directly associated with health (Gerin, Pieper, Levy & Pickering)
  • Encourage friends and family to take better care of themselves (Payne & Walker)
  • Encourage better compliance with medication (Payne & Walker)
  • Instrumental support: practical, immediate support when most needed.
7 of 36

Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love

Three components of love: intimacy, passion, commitment

  • Intimacy - feelings of closeness and connectedness
  • Passion - romance, physical attraction, sexual consummation
  • Commitment - deciding to stay together for an instrumental goal (money, children, etc.)

Types of Love

  • Liking - intimacy alone
  • Compassionate - intimacy and commitment
  • Empty love - commitment alone
  • Fatuous love - passion and commitment
  • Infatuation - passion alone
  • Romantic love - intimacy and passion
  • Consummate love - intimacy and passion and commitment
8 of 36

Alternative View - The Social Construction of Love

Social Constructionist view - idea that the definition of love differs between cultures and time.

Western Dominant Model

  • Romantic love = monogamous - religion.
  • Marriage: People fall in love and then get married.
  • Gay marriage now legal in 19 countries (out of 191 countries world wide)
  • Divorce as a social construct.

Elsewhere/In The Past

  • Polygamy = 25% of countries worldwide
  • Arranged marriage most common form of marriage worldwide in the 18th century (O'Brien)
  • Homosexuality illegal in the UK until 1967, marriage illegal in the UK until 2014. Homosexuality is still illegal in 79 countries.
  • 6,000 divorces per year in 1971, now around 140,000 (ONS, England and Wales)
9 of 36

Is Love a Social Construct?

"We believe that love is an emotional experience that changes according to its cultural milieu. We suggest that part of the experience of love is its definition and that when cultures have different definitions of love, they experience love differently." Beall & Sternberg

10 of 36

Is Love an Addiction?

Fisher, Aron & Brown

  • Participants who were madly in love.
  • Brain activity in brain scanner was measured while looking at a picture of their loved one or a neutral acquaintance.
  • Results: Dopamine system  was activated = associated with anticipation of reward and focused attention; involved in pleasure and addiction, craving and obsession.
  • Love as a strong motivation, addictive craving to be with another person.
11 of 36

How do Relationships Start?

Three key features:

  • Proximity: do they live near us?
  • Familiarity: do we feel that we know them?
  • Similarity: are they people like us?
12 of 36

Proximity (Propinquity) Effect

Being physically close to others increases the chance of becoming friends.

Example: student house - Festinger, Schachter & Back - Westgate West complex

  • Different buildings and apartments on different floors.
  • Relationship development over 10 months
  • Physical proximity predicted development of friendships: people formed more friendships with others who lived close to them (1 door away, 42%; 2 doors away, 22%; 3 doors away, 16%)
13 of 36

Role of Familiarity

Repeated exposure can create positive attitudes.

More exposure effect: Increase in liking for an object as a result of being repeatedly exposed to it.

e.g. Zajonc

  • Participants were shown 12 Chinese characters.
  • Different levels of frequency: either 25 times, 10 times, twice, once or not at all.
  • DV: rating of liking of characters.
  • Results: characters were more liked, the more times they had been shown.

Familiarity with a new person increases liking (Moreland & Beach)

  • 4 similar looking new students attended a class, without actually speaking to other members of the class.
  • They varied how often they attended the class (15 vs. 10 vs. 5 vs. 0 times)
  • The more often the 'new student' attended the class, the more attractive she was rated.
14 of 36


Very little evidence for the idea that opposites attract

Similarity attraction effect (Byrne) - we like others who are similar.

Bogus Stranger Paradigm - Byrne

  • Participant completes attitudes questionnaire.
  • Participant reads attitudes of target person (actually a bogus stranger).
  • Manipulation of similarity of target person (10%, 20% or 50% similar).
  • Participants asked "how much do you think you like this person?"
  • Participant likes similar target person more.
15 of 36

What Attracts us to Other People?

General characteristics (AndersonBussLippa)

  • Intelligence
  • Warmth
  • Trustworthiness
  • Humour
  • Status/money
  • Physical attractiveness
  • Physical attractiveness largest predictor of attraction for men (Sprecher)
  • Status is the largest predictor of attraction for women (Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeister)
16 of 36

Gender Differences in Attraction

  • Men: physical attractiveness is the most important
  • Women: signs of dominance and status are more important
  • Gender differences have been found in more than 27 cross-cultural studies.

These could be due to evolutionary advantages: protection of offspring by the male and the look of the offspring from the female.

17 of 36

What is Physical Attractiveness?

Objective features of face and body:

  • Symmetrical faces are judged as more attractive than asymmetrical faces (Perrett et al.)
  • Female faces with high cheekbones and smooth skin: most sensitive indicator of high levels of oestrogen (Draelos)
  • Male faces with large jaw, and prominent brow ridges and cheekbones: signal high levels of testosterone (Penton-Voak, Ian & Chen)
  • Symmetrical bodies (Tovee, Tasker & Benson)
    - Men - narrow waist and broad chest and shoulders.
    - Women - hourglass shaped waist-to-hip ratio of 0.70 (associated with fertility).
18 of 36

Cognitive Bias for Attractive People

  • Pupils are judged as more intelligent and get higher grades (Clifford and Walster)
  • Raise more money for charity (Chaiken)
  • Higher income (Frieze, Olson and Russell)
  • Lower sentences in court (Downs and Lyons)
  • Attractive babies: mothers play more and display more affectionate behaviour (Langlois, Ritter, Cassey and Sawin)
19 of 36

What is Beautiful is Good - Stereotype

Attractive people are seen as having nice personalities

Dion, Berscheid & Walster

  • Participants rated pictures of attractive and unattractive people on personality characteristics.
  • Attractive: more friendly, sociable, trustworthy, competent
  • Shown for both adults and children.
  • Shown for pictures presented for only 100 milliseconds.
20 of 36

Are Attractive People 'Better'?

  • Attractive people are more extraverted, have higher self-confidence, possess better social skills (Langlois et al.)
  • Unlikely that attractive people are born more sociable and friendly.
  • They become more sociable:
    - Mothers treat attractive children better
    - Attractive pupils are treated better by peers and teachers.
    - Attractive people receive more help and cooperation.
  • Attractive people confirm the what-is-beautiful-is-good-stereotype by reciprocating favourable responses from others - self-fulfilling propechy (Snyder, Tanke, & Berscheid)
21 of 36

Internet and Romantic Relationships

Life Before the Internet

  • In almost all societies, cultures and religions, there have always been matchmakers (e.g. priests, village elders, clergy, rabbis, elderly women)
  • With the advent of newspapers, people started to advertise for a spouse, with the first recorded one being in the early 1770s (Orr). Common place by 1970.
  • Video-dating became popular in the 1980s. (Small)
22 of 36


  • When given too much choice, people experience choice overload, in which they avoid making any decision rather than exerting the mental effort required to make a decision (Lyengar).
  • Supermarket shoppers (Lyengar and Lepper) - encountered tasting booth with 6 or 24 flavours of jam.
  • Shoppers twice as likely to stop at the booth with the larger array, but 10 times more likely to purchase the jams from the smaller array (30% vs. 3%).
23 of 36

Choice Paralysis in a Romantic Context

  • Fishman, Lyengar, Kamenica and Simonson: Students attended a speed dating event that varied in size from 18 participants to 42 participants.
  • As the size of the choice set increased, they said 'yes' to fewer potential partners.
  • Women who attended speed-dating events at which they met a small number of men (9-14) were over 40% more likely to agree to a follow-up meeting than those who met a larger number of men (15-21).
24 of 36

Browsing Profiles: Objectification

Presented with thousands of profiles. Online websites allow users to narrow their search categories in much the same way that users on a shopping website can refine their searches.

  • Heino: 'relationshopping' leads to the 'objectification' of individuals.
  • Found that people tedn to see pictures and profiles as 'sales pitches' and that we reduce people to 'products'.
  • Difficult to measure subtle 'experimental' attributes (humour, warmth) from a profile, but easy to reduce/categorise people on attributes (jobs, redheads, income).

In the offline world, we meet someone and sense that there is a 'spark' and then we evaluate them afterwards. Can it really work the other way around?

25 of 36

Objectification in Research

People engage in deliverate self-presentation when constructing their profiles (Ellison et al.Whitty)

Hitsch, Hortascu & Airely - 21, 745 users' profiles data compared to the 'national average'.

  • Both men and women were taller than the national average (1.3 inches for men, 1 inch for women).
  • Women claimed to weigh less than the national average (5.4 pounds for 20-29 age range and an average of 22.9 pounds for 50-59 year group).

Toma, Hancock and Ellison compared users profiles with actual weight, height and age data with their online profile data.

  • 81% had lied about at least one of characteristics (age, height, weight).
  • 60% lied about weight, 40% about their height, 19% about their age.
26 of 36

The Matching Hypothesis

The more socially desirable an individual is, the more socially desirable they would expect their partner to be.

People learn their position in the 'attractiveness hierachy' via a feedback loop.

Murstien took photos of 100 faces of 50 real couples.

  • Group A were asked to rate each member of the couple on attractiveness.
  • Group B were presented with the same pictures but in a randomised order.
  • Results: Faces of real couples were consistently rated as more alike than faces randomly assigned into couples.
  • So, evidence in favour of the matching hypothesis.

Couples frequently mismatched (Willerton).

The matching hypothesis tells us nothing about why couples stay together once matched.

27 of 36


  • Revealing information about onself to another person is important in interpersonal relationships (Rubin)
  • Meta-analysis (Collins & Miller)
    - We disclose more to people we like.
    - We like people more after having disclosed to them.
    - We like people who disclose more.
  • Self-disclosure sually operates to a norm of reciprocity (at least in the early days of the relationship).
  • Sharing intimate information maintains relationships. (Canary et al.)
28 of 36

The Role of Arousal

Three-factor theory of love (Hatfield and Walster)

  • 1) a state of physiological arousal.
  • 2) an appropriate label for that arousal (cultural influence) and 
  • 3) an appropriate love object

Bridge Study (Dutton & Aron)

  • Male participants crossed a bridge
    - shaky bridge - Capilano suspension bridge in North Vancouver
    - safe and wide bridge
  • At the end of the bridge an attractive female experimenter waited
    - Describe pictures on questionnaire
    - Received her telephone number in case of questions.
  • Shaky bridge induces arousal.
  • Men who had crossed the shaky bridge attributed arousal to attraction.
    - Described pictures in a more sexual way
    - More likely to call experimenter.
29 of 36

Thematic Appreciation Test

Participants shown an ambiguous picture from the Themetic Appreciation Test and asked to write down a short story with a beginning, middle and end in which they comment on how the couple in the picture of thinking and feeling.

30 of 36

Investment Theory

Set of theories - 'economic maintenance of relationships' (e.g. social exchange theory, equity theory, investment theory).

Investment theory:

  • Satisfaction
  • Quality of alternatives
  • Investments
  • Leads to commitment
  • Which leads to relationship stability.
31 of 36


Relationships based on rewards (pleasurable resources associated with the relationship) and costs (factors in the relationship experienced negatively) and these tend to be subjective.

All relationships have an outcome (calculated by subtracting costs from rewards). Satisfaction occurs when rewards outweigh the costs.

32 of 36

Quality of Alternatives

Is there a better relationship out there for me?

Two factors:

  • Comparison level: comparing current levels of satisfaction with previous relationships.
  • Comparison level for alternatives: comparing current relationships to other possible relationships on offer.
33 of 36


How much have I already put into this relationship?

Investments: level of resources put into a relationship which increase the costs of withdrawing from the relationship.


  • Financial (e.g. money, house)
  • Temporal (e.g. been with them for 10 years of life)
  • Emotional (e.g. self-disclosure, welfare of the kids)
34 of 36

Relationship Commitment

Satisfaction, quality of alternatives and investments affect level of relationship commitment.

  • The more satisfied, the lower the quality of alternatives, the more prior investments - the more committed a person to maintain the relationship.

Satisfaction not reliable predictor.

Abused women stay when

  • They have limited or poor quality alternatives (less education, no way of supporting themselves).
  • They have invested more in their relationship (long time, children).

Lower quality of alternatives and greater investment size predicted:

  • More commitment
  • Less frequent leaving behaviour.
35 of 36

Relationship Breakdown

Baxter: Four factors that characterise the strategies that people employ when relationships breakdown.

  • Withdrawl/avoidance
  • Manipulation
  • Positive-tone strategies
  • Open confrontation.
36 of 36


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Social Psychology resources »