Psychology Relationships

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FORMATION - Byrne, Clore and Smeaton (1986)

Came up with the theory of similarity. We filter out those too dissimilar, then choose someone from the remaining.


  • Attitude alignment may occur where we edit our attitudes to be more similar to a partner.
  • Similar people are more likely to like us, so ruling out those dissimilar reduces rejection.
  • When people are similar in attitudes and belief, it validates them and rewards them.
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FORMATION - Rosenbaum (1986)

Suggested the dissimilarity-repulsion hypothesis. Studies show first attraction at similarities, then reduced attraction on discovering dissimilarities.


  • Opposes the theory of similarity.
  • There are many other factors in relationship formation, such as economic level and self-concept.
  • Suggests an evolutionary explanation - Helps to focus courtship energy on specific individuals.
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FORMATION - Byrne and Clore (1970)

Suggest the reward/need satisfaction theory. According to operant conditioning, we repeat behaviour leading to positive outcomes, so we enter relationships because the person creates positive feelings. According to classical conditioning, when we associate someone with a positive experience (i.e. a happy mood) we positively value them.


  • We gain satisfaction from giving as well as receiving, so rewards may not be everything.
  • Probably not just as a result of social learning alone.
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FORMATION - Argyle (1994)

People form relationships as they satisfy the 7 basic needs: biological, dependency, affiliation, dominance, sex, aggression and self-esteem.


  • This presents a one-sided picture.
  • Focuses on hedonism of the individual. Perhaps people want to provide for others.
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FORMATION - Aron et al (2005)

Participants scoring highly on self-report questionnaires of romantic love were associated with higher levels of activity in areas of the brain rich in dopamine.


  • Self-report questionnaires are not always reliable.
  • Scoring system is difficult to measure and subjective to the researcher.
  • Lab experiment lacks mundane realism.
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MAINTENANCE - Thibaut and Kelley (1959)

Social exchange theory.

Profit and loss: If rewards (being cared for, companionship or sex) outweigh the costs (effort, financial investment or time) in a relationship, there is 'profit'.

Comparison level: We form a comparison level as a product of our relationship experiences. If the potential profit exceeds this, the relationship is judged as worthwhile. The comparison level for alternatives means a new relationship with higher profit can replace an old one.


  • Does not explain the ending of relationships with no alternatives.
  • Does not detail how great the difference to the comparison level must be.
  • Ignores the social aspects of a relationship (e.g. how partners communicate).
  • Focuses on the hedonism of the individual.
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MAINTENANCE - Walster et al (1978)

Equity theory.

Inequity and distress: Any kind of inequity has the potential to create distress, so any perception of unfairness may lead to dissatisfaction.

Ratio of inputs and outputs: As fairness in a relationship is subjective to the individual partners, an equitable relationship is one where both of their 'benefits minus costs' are equal.


  • Incomplete theory to explain marital maintenance.
  • 'Economic' theories may only apply to Western cultures.
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MAINTENANCE - Sigman (1991)

Suggested that couples use Relational Continuity Constructional Units (RCCUs) to bridge gaps in relationships which are caused by absence, in order to maintain them.


  • A major cause of relationship breakdown is maintenance difficulties in long-distance relationships.
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MAINTENANCE - Simpson et al (1990)

Asked participants to rate people in terms of physical attractiveness. Those in a relationship rated lower.


  • They may have felt guilt or the need to be loyal to their partner.
  • Results may be affected by social desirability bias - They wanted the researchers to think that they were faithful to their partner and happy with their relationship.
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BREAKDOWN - Duck (1999)

Reasons for breakdown.

Maintenance difficulties: Circumstances where they cannot see each other are often responsible.

Lack of social skills: Others percieve them as not interested in relating.

Lack of stimulation: If relationships don't develop, people get bored.


  • Extramarital affairs may be a direct reaction to lack of social skills/stimulation.
  • If reuniting is regular, a long distance relationship may be maintained.
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BREAKDOWN - Coleman (2010)

Demographic factors (e.g. early age at marriage, pre-marital conception, parental divorce) are more predictive of marital breakdown than socio-economic factors (e.g. culture, understanding, religion).


  • Rushing into a relationship/marriage means you do not consider the consequences.
  • Real-world application - Couples therapy.
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BREAKDOWN - Rollie and Duck (2006)

The model of breakdown. This involves:

Breakdown - One partner is distressed.

Intrapsychic processes - Brooding focus on their faults and costs.

Dyadic processes - Confront the partner and discuss the future.

Social processes - Involvement of family and friends.

Grave-dressing processes - Strategically reinterpreting view of partner.

Resurrection processes - Preparation for new relationships.


  • To repair relationships, communication is important in the intrapsychic stage, involving re-establishing liking and re-evaluating behaviour.
  • In later stages, different strategies for repair are appropriate.
  • Ethics - research is sensitive and uses vulnerable participants.
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SEXUAL SELECTION - Darwin (1874)

Came up with his theory of sexual selection.

Intrasexual: Members of one sex competing for access to members of the opposite sex.

Intersexual: When a member of one sex selects a member of the other sex posessing certain qualities.


  • Logically, being choosy is time and energy consuming, yet this is the only way to ensure the passing on of good genes.
  • Some studies have shown that females exhibit a mating preference (e.g. for movement) in non-sexual contexts also, which suggests it evolved for reasons unconnected to mate choice.
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Studied 10,000 people from 37 cultures, for long term mating. Women desired people with 'good financial prospects' more. Men placed more importance on physical attractiveness and wanted younger partners. Both wanted partners who were intelligent (linked to parenting skills), kind (interested in long term relationship) and dependable (help in times of trouble).


  • Younger women are easier to control.
  • Large sample size.
  • Wide range of cultures.
  • May only express preferences rather than what actually happens.
  • Women want someone who can provide resources for her and her children.
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SEXUAL SELECTION - Buss and Schmitt (1993)

Men lower their standards for short-term mating, then find a decrease in attraction directly afterwards (hence a hasty departure).


  • Many incidences of short-term mating are 'one night stands' that come as a result of drinking. This influences males to find a woman more attractive.
  • The hasty departure means a man can impregnate more women in a shorter period of time.
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SEXUAL SELECTION - Penton-Voak et al (1999)

Females choose a more feminised face for a long-term relationship as their appearance suggests kindness and co operation. During the high conception risk phase of the menstrual cycle women select a more masculine face for short-term mating. This may be due to the levels of testosterone the male produces which suppresses the immune system. If they are otherwise healthy, their immune system must be efficent, indicating good genes.


  • Studies have shown males find females more attractive during the high-conception risk phase.
  • Helps explain cheating - Females will have good genes for their offspring and a dependable, supportive environment to bring them up in.
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Men are more jealous of a sexual act as they may be investing in someone else's child, whereas women are more jealous of a shift of emotional focus and loss of resources.


  • Generally, fathers and stepfathers do not discriminate in their time and financial support.
  • Females produce fewer gametes, and can be sure the child is theirs.
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Death rate increases with father's absence.


  • Human males spend more time caring for their offspring than is typical, perhaps as human babies have prolonged immaturity (due to brains being underdeveloped at birth to avoid damage).
  • Males provide resources so the family lives in healthier environments.
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PARENTAL INVESTMENT - Goetz and Shackelford (2009)

Indiscriminate mating costs a woman a great deal (9 months of pregnancy, babies need care and breast feeding), whereas men can just walk away.


  • Human males spend more time caring for their offspring than other mammals.
  • Chimps and bonobos show no male parental investment.
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INFLUENCE OF CHILDHOOD - Shaver et al (1988)

Proposed the attachment, caregiving, sexuality model.

Attachment: According to Bowlby, attachment type provides an internal working model for later relationships.

Caregiving: Modelling caregiving behaviour on primary attachment figure.

Sexuality: Avoidant attached individuals are more likely to find sex without love more pleasurable.


  • Low correlations of attachment type and adult romantic love found.
  • Not determinist - Takes into account environment.
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INFLUENCE OF CHILDHOOD - Hazan and Shaver (1981)

Made a 'love quiz' for a local newspaper which asked about romantic experiences and childhood relationships. They found a high correlation between infant attachment types and adult romantic love styles.


  • Doing it through a newspaper produces a certain type of personality.
  • Self-report techniques are not always reliable.
  • May have been influenced by demand characteristics.
  • Was only done in the 'local area'.
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INFLUENCE OF CHILDHOOD - Berenson and Andersen (20

Adult women abused in childhood later expected rejection and were emotionally distanced from people who reminded them of the abusive parent.


  • Ethical issues - Sensitive research and vulnerable participants.
  • Abused people show symptoms of depression and anxiety, with a damaged ability to trust.
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INFLUENCE OF CHILDHOOD - Simpson et al (2007)

78 participants were studied over 25 years. If classified as secure in infancy: at ages 6-8 teachers said they were socially competent, at age 16 they were closer to their friends, and in adulthood they were more expressive and emotionally attached to their partners.


  • May not be to do with attachment, may be linked more to personality type.
  • Fairly large sample size.
  • Longitudinal study produces reliable results as the same participants are followed.
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Moderate or low dating frequency in adolesence (15-17.5 yrs) predicted higher quality adult (20-21 yrs) relationships than heavy daters.

  • Those with low dating frequency probably had more long-term relationships built on trust and friendship compared to those with high frequency.
  • Those who had multiple relationships are likely to have rushed into them, so may have more impulsive personalities.
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CULTURAL INFLUENCE - Levine et al (1995)

Asked respondents if they would marry someone with all the qualities they were looking for but did not love. 14% of US respondents answered yes, whereas India (24%) and Thailand (34%) were higher.


  • Collectivist cultures such as India and Thailand focus more on the concerns to do with the family or group, individualist cultures focus on the individual's freedom and happiness.
  • Non-Western cultures rarely interact with strangers and relationships are tied to family and economic resources.
  • Research methods may be interpreted differently in other cultures so we should develop more indigenous psychologies.
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Romantic love is more readily accepted by American culture than by Chinese culture. An American is more likely to ask 'How does my heart feel?' whereas a Chinese person may ask 'What will others think?'.


  • Western cultures present highly idealised views of romantic love in romantic comedies, so more emphasis is placed on the emotional importance of love.
  • Chinese culture is a collectivist one.
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In arranged marriages, divorce rates are low and around half of them report having fallen in love.


  • Parents may be in a better position to judge compatibility in the long run.
  • They may stay married even if they aren't happy in order to be socially accepted.
  • Even if they don't fall in love, they may form a strong friendship by being put into the same situation.
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CULTURAL INFLUENCE - Bartels and Zeki (2000)

Suggest we have a 'functionally specialised system' that lights up during fMRI scans of the brains of people claiming to be in love.

  • If it does have a biological and evolutionary basis, culture may be irrelevant.
  • However, this could be described as determinist, as culture and environment have been shown to have a large impact.
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