Psychology Unit 3 AQA (A) - Formation of romantic relationships

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  • Created on: 06-06-13 18:34

Formation Of Romantic Relationships

For a romantic relationship to form ATTRACTION is needed. 

Several factors that affect whether people will form relationships:

1. Proximity - further apart two people live = less likely to meet to form relationship.  (only applies to real world proximity is no issue in virtual world of internet e.g. dating websites)

2. Exposure & Familiarity - proximity increases opportunities for exposure which inturn increases familiarity.  Argyle (1983) suggests that 'the more two people interact the more alike their attitudes towards each other become, increasing the likelihood of further interaction.'

3. Similarity - key similarities are those concerning beliefs, values and attitudes.  Rubin (1973) suggested that similarity is rewarding because: 

  • agreement provides a basis for engaging in joint activities 
  • people who agree with us create confidence about ourselves, boosting self-esteem
  • people believe that anyone who shares their views must be sensitive and praiseworthy
  • peple who agree find it easier to communicate and like each other
  • we assume that people with similar attitudes to us like us so we like them too.

4. Physical Attractiveness - takes time to find out about peoples attitudes and values but physical attraction is immediate. 

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Attractiveness Stereotype

  • Believes that indidivuals percieve attractive looking people as having attractive personalities. 
  • BUT.. different cultures have different criteria and the definitions of beauty change over time.
  • Facial beauty = more important in women
  • Mens height and muscularity = increase attractiveness
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Matching Hypothesis

Sees people as attracted to people of similar percieved attractiveness.


Murstein (1972)

  • He asked participants to compare photos.
  • The photos were of steady and engaged couples with random males and females put together in pairs.
  • Found - the real couples were percieved as more similar to each other in terms of physical attractiveness.
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The Sociobiological Explanation

EVOLUTIONARY THEORY!.. percieves relationship formation as survival efficiency; there are different focuses between genders.


  • Aren't certain of paternity 
  • They produce lots of sperm for a long time
  • Best strategy to ensure that they further their genes is to have multiple partners 
  • They look for signs of fertility and sexual faithfulness
  • They do not want to waste resources bringing up another mans child

Females - 

  • Produce small number of eggs
  • Certain of maternity 
  • Seek to ensure their children are genetically strong and healthy
  • Selective in choosing partners
  • Look for kindness as this shows signs of wilingness to share resources
  • The more a male invests the more likely it is that he will not desert her and her child
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The Sociobiological Explanation ctd...

Males compete to be chosen.

Females select males on characterisitcs reflecting genetic fitness.


occurs when competition and selection occur.

gets males to invest resources.

increases chance of not deserting and investing more resources in the future.

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Research - The Sociobiological Explanation

Davis (1990) 

Content analysis of personal advertiements

Found -

  • men look for health and attractiveness & offer wealth and resources
  • females look for resources and status & offer beauty and youth
  • SUPPORTS the idea of evolutionary based gender differences in relationship formation

Dunbar (1995)

Analysed 900 personal advertisement from 4 US newspapers 

Found - 

  • 42% of males sought youthfulness only 25% of females did 
  • 44% of males sought attractiveness only 22% of females did
  • SUPPORTS the sociobiological idea that males and females have different reasons for forming relationships. 
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Research - The Sociobiological Explanation

Harris (2005)

Examined cultures dominated by different religious systems.

Found - 

  • Behavioural patterns either contradicted sociobiological strategies of relationship formation OR placed emphasis on cooperative restaint rather than survival through selfish propagation.
  • The indicates that many humans societies have developed relationship systems going AGAINST sociobiological predictions. 
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Reinforcement and Needs Satisfaction


Percieves conditioning as an explanation for relationship formation.

Direct rewards = operant conditioning ...

meet psychological needs for friendship, love and sex. It is satisfying to recieve this type of conditioning and therfore we will like them more and spend more time with them = increased chance of relationship formation.

Indirect rewards = classical conditioning ... 

this occurs when people become associated with pleasant circumstances = makes us more likely to form a relationship. 

If we associate people with being in a good mood or helping to minimise a negative mood we will find them attractive and will increasingly like them.. furthers the chance of relationship formation. 

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Reinforcement and Needs Satisfaction

Argyle (1994)

outlined several motivational systems and explained how forming relationships satisfies social needs on several levels:

  • Biological needs - e.g. collective eating
  • Dependency - being comforted
  • Affiliation - sense of belonging
  • Dominance - making decisions for other people
  • Sex - flirting
  • Aggression - letting off steam 
  • Self-esteem - being respected by other people
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Research - Reinforcement and Needs Satisfaction

Griffit and Guay (1969)

Evaluated participants on creative task

if evaluation was postitive participants expressed more liking for a non-involved bystander then if evaluation wasnt positive

SUPPORTS idea of people being liked who are associated with positive outcomes

Hays (1985) 

investigated student friendships

Found - 

rather than being focused purely on rewards recieved, individuals favoured equity giving priority to rewarding the other person. 


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Research - Reinforcement and Needs Satisfaction

Cunningham (1988)

asked males to watch either a happy or a sad film and then to interact with a female

more positive interactions came from those watching the happy film

SUPPORTS the explanation that we will form relationships with people whom we associate with pleasant outcomes and circumstances. 

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Evauation - Reinforcement and Needs Satisfaction


  • The theory can explain friendships as people often like those who have similar feelings to them
  • Model is supported by the similarity theory - sees similar people as being suited to form relationships and that when others have similar attitudes to ourseleves it is satisfying fitting in with the model


  • Doesnt explain the intricacies of long term romantic relationships
  • Lab research - low ecological validity - issues generalising to be representative to real life situations
  • Percieves people as being selfish by saying they only satisfy their own needs however there are many people who also want have concern for other peoples needs
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Issues, Debates and Approaches - The theories of r

  • DETERMINISTIC... relationships are seen as having a lack of free will.
  • Sociobiological explanation is REDUCTIONIST seeing relationships as a means of reproduction; disregarding any other reasons for being in romantic relationships e.g. companionship. 
  • Rewards-needs satisfaction theory doesnt account for cultural differences as some cultures dont enter relationships to recieve rewards or to prioritise selfish needs.
  • Rewards-needs satisfaction theory doesnt account for gender differences.  Women often focus more on the needs of other people and males and females tend to find different things rewarding. 
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