Relationp Formation



It has been argued that one of the main factors in relationship formation is interpersonal attraction which is the attraction between two people based on their appearance and character. When meeting new people we first notice their physical appearance and based off this we will often make judgements about them and their character.

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Hansberger (1988)

The importance of physical attraction is also a factor in other areas of social life for example it has been noted that students rate attractive teachers as nicer and less strict (Hansberger, 1988), this supports the idea that we will make automatic assumptions about an individual based on their appearance.

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Feingold (1992)

To add further support to the theory of physical attraction Feingold (1992) suggested the idea of a ‘Halo Effect’, which is when we perceive to be physically attractive and then also attribute other positive characteristics to them, for example being funny, friendly or loyal.

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Wheeler and Kim (1997)

This theory was supported by Wheeler and Kim (1997) who found that individuals in all cultures assigned positive traits to beautiful people, however their cultural values affected what they considered those traits to be, for example, individualistic cultures said, ‘assertive’ or ‘strong’, but collectivist cultures said ‘sensitive’ or ‘sociable’. This study can be positively evaluated because it studied a range of participants from different cultures. However the ‘Halo Effect’ can be criticised because it has been noted that good looking women are often thought of as being egotistical and materialistic (Dermer, 1975). There are also issues of validity with this study as it only studied participants from two countries, America and Korea which makes it Ethnocentric with issues in generalising the findings to other countries.

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Cunningham (1982)

Cunningham (1982) proposed that there was a certain set of facial features for men and women that makes them attractive. For example men who have square jaws or thin lips, whereas women with wide eyes or a small nose are considered more attractive. Evolutionary arguments support this because men have been proven to look for youthfulness in a women as a sign of them having a higher reproductive value, which is the amount of children they could have in their lifetime, this decreases as they get older and therefor youth and a ‘childlike’ or ‘babyface’ will attract men wishing to reproduce. A study which supports this involved asking participants to rate three pictures of the same woman’s face, which had each then been slightly altered to look younger.

(-) Overall, this theory does have some supportable and reasonable explanations of relationship formation, however, it fails to account for individual differences in setting out specific attractive characteristics, which are not always arcuate, and for example many people believe Kiera Knightly to be quite attractive when she does not match the suggested characteristics having quite harsh facial features. The theory is also manly supported by western studies and therefore this reasoning for relationship formation cannot be fully applied to eastern cultures where there are arranged marriages and different social expectations around relationships and appearance.

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Grundel found that 50% of the participants chose the youngest looking face, whereas only 9.5% chose the oldest face.

(-) This study however can be criticised because of its artificial nature as the participants were asked to base their rating of attraction on only face and not overall body as well as the faces being only photographic rather than seeing the woman in person, this makes the study less ecological valid as it cannot be easily generalised to normal life.

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Zajonc - Proximity

Another factor within Interpersonal Attraction is the theory of proximity, that closeness and contact is what generates attraction and therefor relationships, as proposed by Zajonc.

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Festinger et al (1950)

There have been a number of studies into the effect of proximity on relationships, for example Festinger et al (1950) studied married graduates who had been randomly assigned to flats in 17 buildings and found that toe thirds of their friends lived in the same building as them, as well as close friends being twice as likely to live on the same floor as the couple.

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Bossard (1932)

Bossard (1932) also looked into proximity in relationships by studying 5,000 marriage licences in Philadelphia and found a clear tendency for people getting married to have lived close to each other. These studies both support the idea of proximity effecting relationships.

(-)  however both of these studies can be criticised as they are only temporally valid due to the invention of instant messaging and social media, this study may no longer apply as people can have long distance relationships with also of ‘virtual closeness’ whereas during the study’s time period the only real types of social contact where with real life interaction which would only occur if they lived near each other.

(-) Another issue of validity with both of these studies is that they do not operationalise the term ‘close’ therefore we are unsure as to what level of proximity they are supporting.

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There is however another theory of relationship formation that could be considered, which is the evolutionary argument which believes that relationships develop for procreation, survival and adaptation purposes. To support this theory within a family relationship Trivers suggested the idea of ‘Parental investment’ which is providing for offspring and the resources parents put into having and raising a child.

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Fellner & Marshal (1981)

Fellner & Marshal (1981) then researched around this idea and found that 86% of people were willing to donate a kidney to their child whereas only 67% would do the same for their parents. This supports the evolutionary argument as parents will invest a lot into their children so that they will survive and then pass on their genes and their line will continue.

(-) However this study can also be criticised because the participants may have only answered yes as they believed that this would be the socially desirable answer for them. As well as this there is the issue or temporal validity as at the time of this study having a kidney removed could be quite a dangerous or at least serious procedure, however given medical development there is now much less of a risk with the operation and therefor more people may agree to donate a kidney.

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This theory of evolutionary reasoning and parental investment can also be criticised by Pinker who studied ‘neonaticide’ (the killing of a new-born baby), he believed that the purpose of relationships was to reproduce and was all down to survival and adaptation.

However some may argue that ‘neonaticide’ does have an evolutionary purpose, as when such an act takes place in conditions of poverty, it could be regarded as an adapted response and the psychological module that normal induces protectiveness in mothers for their new-borns is switched off by the challenge of an impoverished environment.

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Daly and Wilson (1988)

This is supported by Daly and Wilson (1988) who found that children under the age of 2 years old are that least 60 times more likely to be killed by a step-parent, who is almost always a step-father, than they are to be killed by a biological parent.

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In terms of evolutions effect on a sexual relationship, Buss suggested that there are certain characteristic that all humans look for in a mate as an adaptation to find the most suitable mate for reproducing. For example women will look for an industrious and solvent man, whereas men will look for younger looking woman with a higher reproductive value and a woman with a low hip to waist ratio as a sign of being a good child bearer and both men and women will look for chastity, however women more so, as the woman wants all of the man’s resources to be focused around her and her offspring rather than another woman’s and also men will want a higher ‘parental probability’ as they can never be sure that the child is theirs.

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Clark and Hatfield (1989)

A study which supports this idea is Clark and Hatfield (1989) who got attractive male and female researchers to ask complete strangers if they would sleep with them that night and found that most of men agreed whereas none of the women agreed to the proposal.

(-) This study however can be criticised due to the unnatural situation created by the researchers which makes the study lack ecological validity.

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Therefore as a theory Evolution could explain some aspects of relationship formation, however it ignores the concept of Homosexual relationships or couples who do not have children as they would not have formed the relationship based on reproducing and survival. These problems may have arisen due to the fact that this theory is based on animals and their relationship formation which is quite invalid as they are of a lesser intelligence to humans. As well as this it focuses mainly on sexual or survival relationships such as family or sexual mates, however it does not account for friends, for example many women would rate their best friend as being loved as much as the woman’s husband and the evolutionary theory does not explain this.

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