- Created by: moll99
- Created on: 28-02-17 11:10
Sexual selection is an evolutionary explanation of partner preference and explains why some characteristics that might appear disadvantageous actually benefit an advantage in human reproductive behaviour.
Or the characteristics provide an advantage over competitors for reproductive rights (examples in humans include greater height and certain facial and bodily features).
Attributes or behaviours that increase reproductive success are passed on and may become exaggerated over succeeding generations of offspring.
Anisogamy is the differences between male and female sex cells (gametes).
Sperm are extremely small, highly mobile, created continuously in vast numbers from puberty to old age and do not require a great amount of energy to produce. Eggs are relatively large, static, produced at intervals for a limited number of fertile years and require a huge investment of energy.
A consequence of this is that there is no shortage of fertile males but a fertile woman is rare.
Anisogamy is also important in partner preference because it creates two different mating strategies: inter and intra-sexual selection.
Inter-sexual selection is between the sexes - the strategies that males use to select females or females use to select males.
Intra-sexual selection is within each sex - stategies between males to be the one that is selected.
This is the preferred strategy of the female - quality over quantity.
Robert Trivers (1972) emphasises that females make a greater investment of time, commitment and other resources before, during and after the birth of her offspring. Both sexes are choosy but the consquences of making a wrong choice of partner are much more serious for the female than the male so it pays for her to be especially choosy.
The female's optimum mating strategy is to select a genetically fit partner who is able and willing to provide resources. This leaves the males competing for the opportunity to mate with the female.
This female preference determines which features are passed on to her offspring. For example, if height is considered an attractive trait then the trait would increase in the male population because females would mate with tall males and produce sons who are tall.
This is known as a runaway process (Ronald Fisher, 1930) in his **** sons hypothesis - a female mates with a male who has desirable characteristic and this trait is inherited by her son. This increases the likelihood that successive generations of females will mate with her offspring.
This is the preferred strategy of the male - quantity over quality. It refers to the competition between males to be able to mate with a female.
The winner of the competition reproduces and gets to pass on to his offspring the characteristics that contributed to his victory. It is this strategy that has given rise to dimorphism in humans - the obvious differences between males and females.
Intra-sexual selection also has behavioural and psychological consequences, although these are more controversial. For males to acquire fertile females and protect them from competing males, they may benefit from behaving aggressively and perhaps even thinking in a certain way.
Anisogamy dictates that the male's optimum reproductive strategy is to mate with as many fertile females as possible.
A behavioural consequence of this competition for fertile mates is a distinct preference for youth and a sensitivity to the indicators of youth as well as fertility.
- Research support for preferences related to anisogamy: David Buss (1989) carried out a survey of over 10,000 adults in 33 countries and asked questions relating to age and a variety of attributes that evolutionary theory predicts should be important in partner preference. He found that female respondents placed greater value on resource-related characteristics. Males valued reproductive capacity in terms of good looks and chastity, and preferred younger mates.
- Research support for inter-sexual selection: Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield (1989) showed that female choosiness is a reality of heterosexual relationships. Male and female psychology students were sent out across a university campus and approached other students and asked them if they would "go to bed with them" tonight. Not a single female student agreed to the request, whereas 75% of males did, immediately.
- Ignores social and cultural influences: Bereczkei et al (1997) argue that this social change has consequences for women's mate preferences, which may no longer be resource-oriented. Chang et al (2011) compared partner preferences in China over 25 years and found that some had changed but other remained the same, corresponding with the huge social changes in that time.
- Support from waist-hip ratio: Devendra Singh (1993, 2002) studied waist-hip ratio. What matters in male preference is not female body size, but the ratio of waist to hip sizes. Males generally find any hip and waist sizes attractive so long as the ratio of one to the other is 0.7.
- Support from lonely hearts: David Waynforth and Robin Dunbar (1995) studied lonely hearts advertisements in American newspapers and found that women more than men tended to offer physical attractiveness and indicators of youth. Men on the other hand, offered resources more than women did.
Self-disclosure is revealing personal information about yourself. Romantic partners reveal more about their true selves as their relationships develop.
In the early days of a relationship, we like to learn as much as we can about our partner and the more we learn about them the more we seem to like them.
By revealing ourselves to another person, they understand us better and vice versa.
Self-disclosure has a vital role in a relationships beyond the initial attraction. Most people are careful about what they disclose and used wisely and effectively, self-disclosure can help the course of true love run smoother.
Social Penetration Theory
Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor (1973) created the social penetration theory of how relationships develop. It is the gradual process of revealing your inner self to someone else - giving away your deepest thoughts and feelings.
In romantic relationships, it involves the reciprocal exchange of information between intimate partners.When one partner reveals some personal information they display trust, meaning to go further the other person must also reveal sensitive information.
As they increasingly disclose more and more information to each other, romantic partners 'penetrate' more deeply into each other's lives and gain a greater understanding of each other.
Doing so means that a relationship has reached a certain stage where such self-disclosure will be welcomed and reciprocated.
Breadth and Depth of Self-Disclosure
Altman and Taylor said that self-disclosure has two elements - breadth and depth. As both of these increase, romantic partners become more committed to each other.
We disclose a lot about ourselves at the start of a relationship but what we reveal is superficial. It is kind of 'low-risk' information that we would reveal to anyone. Breadth of disclosure is narrow because many topics are not spoke about in the early stage of a relationship.
If we reveal too much too soon, we might get a negative response that could potentially threaten the relationships before it's had a chance to get going.
As a relationship develops, self-disclosure becomes deeper, progessively removing more and more layers to reveal our true selves. Eventually we are prepared to reveal intimate, high-risk information such as painful memories and experiences.
Reciprocity of Self-Disclosure
Harry Reis and Phillip Shaver point out that for a relationship to develop, as well as increase in breadth and depth, there needs to be a reciprocal element to disclosure.
Once you have decided to disclose something that reveals your true self, your partner will respond in a way that is rewarding, with understanding, empathy and their own initmate thoughts and feelings.
There is a balance of self-disclosure between both partners in a successful romantic relationship, which increases feelings of intimacy and deepens the realtionship.
- Support from research studies: Sprecher and Hendrick (2004) studies heterosexual dating couples and found strong correlations between several measures of satisfaction and self-disclosure. Men and women who used self-disclosure and those who believed their partners did likewise were more satisfied with and committed to their romantic relationship.
- Real-life applications: Hass and Stafford (1998) found that 57% of gay en and women said that open and honest self-disclosure was the main way they maintained and deepened their committed relationships.
- Cultural differences: Tang et al (2013) reviewed the research literature regarding sexual self-disclosure. They concluded that men and women in the USA self-disclose significantly more sexual thoughts and feelings than men and women in China. Self-disclosure theory is therefore a limited explanation of romantic relationships.
- Self-disclosure and satisfaction: theories of relationships breakdown often recognise how couples discuss and negotiate the state of their relationship in an attempt to save it. These involve deep self-disclosures but these may contribute to its breakdown.
- Correlation versus causation: it is usually assumed that greater self-disclosure creates more satisfaction, a correlation does not tell us if this is a valid conclusion to draw.
The Importance of Physical Attractiveness
Physical attractiveness usually applies to how attractive we find somebodys face and there is an assumption that we seek to form relationships with the most attractive person available.
Shackelford and Larsen (1997) found that people with symmetrical faces are rated as more attractive. This is because it may be an honest signal of genetic fitness.
People are also attracted to faces with neotenous (baby-face) features such as widely separated large eyes, a delicate chin and a small nose - because these trigger a protective and caring instinct.
McNulty et al (2008) found evidence that the initial attractiveness that brought the partners together continued to be an important feature of the relationships after marriage, for at least several years.
The Halo Effect
We have preconceived ideas about the personality traits attractive people must have and they are univerally positive.
Doin et al (1972) found that physically attractive people are consistently rated as king, strong, sociable and successful compared to unattrative people.
They belief that good-looking people probably have these characteristics makes them even more attractive to us, so we behave positively towards them.
The Matching Hypothesis
The hypothesis, which was proposed by Elaine Walster and her colleagues (1966), states that people choose romantic partners who are roughly of similar physical attractiveness to each other. To do this we have to make a realistic judgement about our own value to a potential partner.
Our choice of partner is basically a compromise, we desire the most physically attractive partner but balance this against the wish to avoid being rejected by someone out of our league.
In terms of physical attractiveness, there's a difference between what we would like in an ideal partner and what we are prepared to settle for.
- Research support for the halo effect: Palmer and Peterson (2012) found that physically attractive people were rated as more politically knowledgeable and competent than unattractive people. The halo effect persisted when participants knew that the attractive people had no particular expertise.
- Individual differences: Towhey (1979) asked male and female to rate how much they would like a target individual based on their photograph and some biographical information. Towhey found that the participants who scored highly on the scale were more influenced by the physical attractiveness of the target when making their judgement. This shows the effects can be moderated by other factors.
- Research support for the matching hypothesis: Feingold (1988) carried out a meta-analysis of 17 studies and found a significant correlation in ratings of attractiveness between romantic partners.
- Role of cultural influences: Cunningham et al (1995) found that large eyes, prominent cheekbones, small nose and high eyebrows were rated as highly attractive by white, Hispanic and Asian males. Wheeler and Kim (1997) found that Korean and American student judged physically attractive people to be more trustworthy, concerned for people, mature and friendly.
- Resrarch contradicting the matching hypothesis: Taylor et al (2001) measured actual date choices and not merely preferences in online daters. He found that people did not consider their own level of attractiveness when making decisions about who to date.
Alan Kerckhoff and Keith Davis (1962) compared the attitudes and personalities of student couples in short-term (less than 18 months) and long-term realtionships.
From this, they devised the filter theory to explain how much romantic relationships form and develop.
In terms of partner choice, we all have a field of availables which is the entire set of potential romantic partners and all the people we could realistically form a relationship with. Not everyone who is available is deirable to us.
According to Kerckhoff and Davis, there are three main factors that act as filters to narrow down our range of partner choice to a field of desirables.
Each of these factors assumes a greater or lesser importance at different stages of a relationship.
Social Demography (1st Level)
Social demography is a wide range of factors which influence the chances of potential partners meeting each other in the first place. They include geographical location, social class, level of education, ethnic group, religion and so on.
You are more likely to meet people who are physically close and share several demographic characteristics. We might encounter people who live further away but our most meaningful and memorable interactions are with people who are nearby.
Although there is a vast range and variety of potential partners, the realistic field is much narrower because our choices are constrained by our social circumstances.
Anyone who is different is discounted as a potential partner. The outcome of this filtering is homogamy - you are more likley to form a relationship with someone who is socially or culturally similar.
Similarity of Attitudes (2nd Level)
Partners will often share important beliefs and values because the field of availables has already been narrowed by the first filter to those who have significant social and cultural characteristics in common.
Kerckhoff and Davis (1962) found that similarity of attitudes was important to the development of romantic relationships, but only for couples who had been together less than 18 months, There is a need for partners in the earlier stages of a relationship to agree over basic values, the things that really matter to them. This encourages greater and deeper conversations.
Donn Byrne (1997) has described the consistent findings that similarity causes attraction as the law of attraction. If such similarity does not exist, the couple may go out together a few times but the relationship is likely to fizzle out.
Complementarity (3rd Level)
The third filter concerns the ability of romantic partners to meet each other's needs. Two partners complement each other when they have traits that the other lacks.
Kerckhoff and Davis found that the need for complementartity was more important for the long-term couples.
At a later stage of a relationship, opposites attract.
Complementarity is attractive because it gives two romantic partners the feeling that together they form a whole, which adds depth to a relationships and makes it more likely to flourish.
- Support from research evidence: Peter Winch (1958) found evidence that similarities of personality, interests and attitudes between partners are typical of the earliest stages of a relationship. According to Winch, this continues in couples who have been happily married for several years.
- Failure to replicate: George Levinger (1974) pointed out that many studies have failed to replicate the original findings that formed the basis of filter theory. He put this down to social changes over time and also to the difficulties inherent in defining the depth of a relationship in terms of its length.
- Direction of cause and effect: Anderson et al (2003) found in a longitudinal study that cohabiting partners became more similar in their emotional responses over time, which is known as emotional convergence. These findings are not predicted by filter theory.
- Lack of temporal validity: the rise of online dating has changed beyond recognition the process of beginning a romantic relationship. It has reduced the importance of some social demographic variables.
- Similarity or complementarity?: Anderson et al (2003) found that similarity increases over time suggests that complementarity is not necessarily a common feature of longer-term relationships.
Social Exchange Theory
SET is a theory of how relationships form and develop.
It assumes that romantic partners act out of self-interest in exhanging rewards and costs.
A satisfying and committed relationship is maintained when rewards exceed costs and potential alternatives are less attractive than the current relationship.
Rewards, Costs and Profits
Thibault and Kelley (1959) contend that behaviour in relationships reflects the economic assumptions of exchange. They say we try to minimise losses and maximise gains (minimax principle). We judge out satisfaction with a relationship in terms of the profit it yields.
Because such rewards and costs are subjective, there is a very wide range of possible outcomes. What one person considers a significant reward might be viewed by someone else as less valuable.
The value of rewards and costs might well change over the course of a relationship. What is seen as rewarding or costly in the early stages, might become less so as time goes on.
Rewards include beneficial things such as companionship, sex and emotional support. Relationships can involve negative and unpleasant emotions as well as pleasurable ones.
Peter Blau (1964) says that relationships can be expensive and costs include time, stress, energy, compromise and so on. A relationship also has an opportunity cost.
Your investment of time and energy in your relationship means using resources you cannot invest elsewhere.
Comparison Level (CL)
The comparison level is the amount of reward that you believe you deserve to get. It develops out of our experiences of previous relationships which we expect from the current one.
It is also influenced by social norms that determine what is widely considered to be a reasonable level of reward. This is often reflected in the media.
Over time we get more relationships and more experience of social norms, so our CL changes.
We consider a relationship worth pursuing if our CL is high. There is a link here with self-esteem.
Someone with low self-esteem will have a low CL and will therefore be satisfied with gaining just a small profit. Someone with higher self-esteem will believe they are worth a lot more.
Comparison Level for Alternatives (CLalt)
SET predicts that we will stay in our current relationship only so long as we believe it is more rewarding than the alternatives.
Steve Duck (1994) says that the CLalt we adopt will depend on the state of our current relationship.
If the costs of our current relationship outweigh the rewards, then alternatives become more attractive. Being in a satisfying relationship means that you may not even notice that alternatives could be available.
Stages of Relationship Development
There are four stages through which relationships develop:
- Sampling stage: we explore the rewards and costs of social exchange by experimenting with them in our own relationships, or by observing others doing so.
- Bargaining stage: this marks the beginning of a relationship, when romantic partners start exchanging various rewards and costs, negotiating and identifying what is most profitable.
- Commitment stage: as time goes on, the sources of costs and rewards become more predictable and the relationship becomes more stable as rewards increase and costs lessen.
- Instituionalisation stage: the partners are now settled down because the norms of the relationship are firmly established.
- Inappropriate assumptions underlying SET: Clark and Mills (2011) argue that the theory fails to distinguish between two types of relationship. SET claims that relationship partners return rewards, costs for costs and that these reciprocal activities are monitored. It is clear from some research that SET is based on faulty assumptoons and cannot account for the majority of romantic relationships.
- Direction of cause and effect: Argyle (1987) points out that we don't measure costs and rewards in a relationship, nor do we constantly consider attractiveness of alternatives. Miller (1997) found that people who rated themselves as being in a highly committed relationship spent less time looking at images of attractive people. SET cannot account for the direction of causation in this outcome.
- SET ignores equity: there is much research support for the role if equity in relationships, and the view that this is more important than just the balance of rewards and costs. SET is a limited explanation which cannot account for a significant proportion of the researhc findings on relationships.
- Measuring SET concepts: psychological rewards and costs are more difficult to define, especially when they vary so much from one person to another. It is unclear what the values of CL and CLalt must be before dissatisfaction threatens a relationship.
- Artificial research: the majority of studies supporting SET use artificial tasks in artificial conditions.
Equity theory is an economic theory of how relationships develop.
It acknowledges the impact of rewards and costs on relationship satisfaction, but criticises social exchange theory for ignoring the central role of equity.
The role of equity: equity means fairness. Elaine Walster and her colleagues (1978) said that what matters most with equity is that both partners' level of profit is roughly the same. When there is a lack of equity, one partner overbenefits and the other underbenefits from the relationship and the other underbenefits which can cause dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
The underbenefitted partner is likely to feel the greatest dissatisfaction in the form of anger, hostility, resentment and humiliation. The overbenefitted partner will likely feel guilt, discomfort and shame.
Equity and Equality
Equity theory says that it's not the size or amount of the rewards and costs that matters, it's the ratio of the two to each other. If one partner puts a lot into the relationship but at the same time gets a lot out of it, then that will seem fair.
As an example, one partner has a disability that prevents them from carrying out domestic chores or other physical activities. An equal distribution of these tasks would not be seen as fair by either partner. The equity in this type of relationship may come from the compensations that the disabled partner could offer in other areas, or from the satisfactions that the more active partner gains from their behaviour.
Satisfying relationships are marked by negotiations to ensure equity, that rewards are distributed fairly between partners.
Consequences of Inequity
Problems arise when one partner puts a great deal in the relationship but gets little from it. A partner who is the subject of inequity will become distressed and dissatisfied with the relationship if this continues for long enough.
Changes in perceived equity: what makes us most dissatisfied is a change in the level of perceived equity as time goes on. At the start of the relationship is may feel perfectly normal to contribute more than you receive. But if the relationship develops in such a way that you continue to put more into the relationship and get less out of it, this will not feel as satisfying as it did at the start of the relationship.
Dealing with inequity: the dissatisfied partner will work hard to make the relationship more equitable as long as they believe it is possible to do so and that the relationship is salvageable. The more unfair the relationship feels, the harder they will work to restore equity. On the other hand, they will revise their perceptions of rewards and costs so that the relationship feels more equitable to them, even if nothing actually changes.
- Supporting research evidence: Mary Utne and her colleagues (1984) carried out a survey of 118 recently-married couples, measuring equity with two self-report scales. The researchers found that couples who considered their relationship equitable were more satisfied than those who saw themselves as overbenefitting or underbenefitting.
- Cultural influences: Katherine Aumer-Ryan et al (2007) found that there are cultural differences in the link between equity and satisfaction. Couples in collectivist culture were most satisfied when they were over benefitting but couples in individualist culture considered their relationship to be most satisfying when the relationship was equitable. The equity theory is limited because it cannot account for this cultural difference.
- Individual differences: Huseman et al (1987) suggested that some people are less sensitive to equity than others. This shows that equity is not necessarily a global feature of all romantic relationships and is not a universal law of social interaction.
- Types of relationship: research studies strongly support the view that equity plays a central role in casual friendships and work relationships but the evidence that equity is important in romantic realtionships is much more mixed.
- Contradictory research evidence: some research studies fail to support predictions made by equity theory.
Rusbult's Investment Model
According to Rusbult et al (2011), commitment depends on three factors: satisfaction level, comparison with alternatives and investment size.
Satisfaction and comparison with alternatives: satisfaction is based on the concept of the comparison level (CL). A satisfying relationship is judged by comparing rewards and costs. It is profitable if it has many rewards and few costs. Each partner is generally satisfied if they are getting more out of the relationship than they expect based on previous experience and social norms.
A comparison level with alternatives (CLalt) results in romantic partners asking themselves "Could by needs be better met outside of my current relationship?". Alternatives include not just relationships with other people, but the possibility of having no romantic relationship at all.
Rusbult introduced a third factor influencing commitment - investment. Investment refers to the extent and importance of the resources associated with the relationship. She stated that there are two major types of investment:
- Intrinsic investments: any resources we put directly into the relationship. They can be tangible things such as money and possessions but they can also be intangible resources such as energy and emotion.
- Extrinsic investments: resources that previously did not feature in the relationship but are now closely associated with it. Tangibles include posessions brought together, mutual friends and children. Intangible can be shared memories.
If the partners in a relationship experience high levels of satisfaction and the alternatives are less attractive and the sizes of their investment are increasing, then we can confidently predict that partners will be committed to the relationship.
Satisfaction Versus Commitment
Rusbult et al (2011) argue that the main psychological factor that causes people to stay in romantic relationships is not satisfaction but commitment.
This can help to explain why dissatisfied partners may choose to stay in a relationship - it's because they are committed to their partner.
They are committed because they have made an investment that they do not want to see go to waste. They will work hard to maintain and repair a damaged relationship, especially when it hits a rough patch.
Relationship Maintenance Mechanisms
Commitment expresses itself in everyday maintenance behaviours. According to the model, enduring partners do not engage in ***-for-tat retalisation but act to promote the relationship.
They will also put their partner's interests first and forgive them for any serious transgressions.
There is also a cognitive element to relationship maintenance and repair.
Committed partners think about each other and potential alternatives in specific ways. They are unrealistically positive about their partner and negative about tempting alternatives and other people's relationships, much more so than less committed partners.
- Supporting research evidence: Benjamin Le and Christophre Agnew (2003) performed a meta-analysis in which they reviewed 52 studies which included 11,000 participants from five countries. They found that satisfaction, comparison and alternatives and investment size all predicted relationship commitment. Relationships where commitment was greatest were the most stable and lasted longest.
- Explains abusive relationships: Rusbult and Martz (1995) studied 'battered' women at a shelter and found that those most likely to return to an abusive partner reported making the greatest investment and having the fewest attractive alternatives.
- Oversimplifies investment: Goodfriend and Agnew (2008) point out that there is more to investment than just the resources you have already put into a relationship. The original model is a limited explanation of romantic relationships because it fails to recognise the true complexity of investment, specifically how planning for the future influences commitment.
- Based on correlational research: strong correlations have been found between all the important factors predicted by the investment model. However there is no evidence of causation. Most studies do not allow us to conclude that any of the factors actually cause commitment in a relationship.
Duck's Phase Model
Duck (2007) proposed a phase model of relationship breakdown. He argued that the ending of a relationships is not a one-off event but a process that takes time and goes through four distinct phases:
- Intra-psychic phase: focus on cognitive processes occurring within the individual. The dissatisfied partner broods on the reasons for his or her dissatisfaction. They weigh up the pros and cons of the relationship and evaluate these against the alternatives. They begin to make plans for the future.
- Dyadic phase: focus on interpersonal processes between the two partners. There comes a point when they cannot avoid talking about their relationship any longer and there is a series of confrontations over a period of time. There are two possible outcomes - a determination to continue breaking up the relationship, or a renewed desire to repair it. But if the rescue attempts fail, another threshold is reached.
- Social phase: focus is now on wider processes involving the couple's social networks. Mutual friends find they are expected to choose a side. Factions are formed and gossip is traded and encouraged. Some friends may pitch in and try to help repair the relationship. This is usually the point of no return - the break-up takes on a momentum driven by social forces.
- Grave-dressing phase: focus is on the aftermath. Gossip plays an important role in this phase, it is crucial that each partner tries to retain some social credit by blaming circumstances, your partner or other people, or everything and everyone but themselves. Grave-dressing also involves creating a personal story you can live with which is more to do with tidying up memories of the relationships. The dissatisfied partner concludes they have to move on.
- An incomplete model?: the original model described is oversimplified. They modified it to add a fifth phase after grave-dressing, the resurrection phase. Ex-partners turn their attention to futurue relationships using the experiences gained from their recently-ended one. These changes overcome a weakness of the original model.
- Methodological issues: it is almost impossible to study this phase of the process, the point at which problems first appear. Researchers are very reluctant to study relationships at this early point because their involvement could make things worse, and even hasten the end of a relationship that might otherwise habe been rescued.
- Useful real-life applications: this model not only helps us to identify and understand the stages of relationship breakdown but also suggests various ways of reversing it. The model is especially useful because it recognises that different repair strategies are more effective at particular points in the breakdown than at others.
- Description rather than explanation: Duck's model is less successful as an explanation of why breakdowns occur.
- Cultural bias: individualist cultures are generally voluntary and frequently come to an end. Relationships in collectivist cultures are more likely to be obligatory, less easy to end, involve wider family and in some cases even arranged with little involvement of the partners.
Self-Disclosure in Virtual Relationships
Reduced cues theory: Sproull and Kiesler (1986) CMC relationships are less effective than face to face ones because they lack many of the cues we normally depend on in FtF interactions. These include nonverbal cues such as our physical appearance. CMC particularly lacks cues to our emotional state, such as our facial expressions and tone of voice. This leads to de-individuation because it reduces people's sense of indiviaul identify, which in turn encourages disinhibition in relating to others. Virtual relationships are therefore more likely to involve blunt and even aggressive communitcation. The upshot of this process is a reluctance to self-disclose. You are unlikely to want to initiate a relationship with someone who is so impersonal, or reveal your innermost feelings to them.
The hyperpersonal model: Walther (1996, 2011) argues that online relationships can be more personal and involve greater self-disclosure than FtF ones. CMC relationships can develop very quickly as self-disclosure happens earlier, and once established they are more intense and intimate. They can also end more quickly because the excitement level of the interaction isn't matched by the level of trust between the relationship partners. Cooper and Sportolari (1997) called this the boom and bust phenomenon of online relationships.
According to the hyperpersonal model, a key feature of self-disclosure in virtual relationships is that the sender of a message has more time to manipulate their online image than they would in an FtF situation. Walther calls this selective self-presentation. People online have more control over what to disclose and the cues they send. This means it is much easier to manipulate self-disclosure to promote intimacy in CMC relationships, by self-presenting in a positive and idealised way.
Absence of Gating in Virtual Relationships
A gate is any obstacle to the fornation of a relationship. FtF interaction is said to be gates, in that it involves many features that can interfere with the early development of a relationship. Examples of such gates include physical unattractiveness, a stammer and social anxiety.
McKenna and John Bargh (1999) argue that a huge advantage of CMC is the absense of gating. This means that a relationship can develop to the point where self-disclosure becomes more frequent and deeper. This absense of gating allows an online relationship to get off the ground in a way that is less likely to happen in an FtF situation.
Absence of gating working by refocusing attention on self-disclosure and away from what many be considered superficial and distracting features.
Absence of gating also means that people are free to create online indentities that they could never manage FtF.
- Lack of research support: Walther and Tidwell point out that people in online interactions use other cues such as style and timing of their messages. The success of such online communication is difficult for the reduced cues theory to explain, because it shows that CMC interactions can be just as personal as those conducted FtF and that it's possible to express emotional states in virtual relationships.
- Research support for the hyperpersonal model: Whitty and Joinson (2009) summarise a wealth of evidence that this is the case. Questions asked in online discussion tend to be very direct, probing and intimate. This is quite different from FtF conversations which are often mainly 'small talk'.
- Types of CMC: self-disclosure online is not a blanket phenomenon, its extent and depth depend very much on the type of CMC being used. People self-disclose more online than they are willing to in completing an online e-commerce webform. Any theory that approaches CMC as a single concept neglects its richness and variety, and is therefore unlikely to be completely valid explanation.
- Relationships are multimodal: Walther (2011) argues that any theory seeking to explain CMC, including the role of self-disclosure, needs to accommodate the fact that relationships are generally conducted both online and offline through many different media.
- Support for absense of gating: McKenna and Bargh (2000) looked at CMC use by lonely and socially anxious people and found that people were able to express their true selves more in FtF situations. Of the romantic relationships that initially formed online, 70% survived more than two years.
Parasocial relationships are those which are similar to normal relationships but lack a key element. They are one-sided, unreciprocated relationship, usually with a celebrity on which the fan expends a lot of emotional energy, commitment and time.
Lynn McCutcheon and his colleagues (2002) developed the Celebrity Attitude Svale, which was used in a large-scale survey by John Maltby et al (2006). They identified three levels of parasocial relationship, each level describing the attitudes and behaviours linked to ever more extreme forms of celebrity worship.
Levels of Parasocial Relationships
- Entertainment-social: the least intense level of celebrity worship. Celebrities are viewed as sources of entertainment and fuel for social interaction. Giles (2002) found that parasocial relationships were a fruitful source of gossip in offices.
- Intense-personal: an intermediate level which reflects a greater personal involvement in a parasocial relationship with a celebrity. A fan of Kim Kardashian might have frequent obsessive thoughts and intense feelings about her, perhaps even considering her to be a soul mate.
- Borderline pathological: the strongest level of celebrity worship, featuring uncontrollable fantasies and extreme behaviours. These might include spending (or planning to spend) a large sum of money on a celebrity-related object, or being willing to perform some illegal act on the celebrity's say-so.
The Absorption-Addiction Model
McCutcheon (2002) explains the tendency to form parasocial relationships in terms of deficients people have in their own lives. They may have a weak sense of self-identity and also lack fulfilment in their everyday relationships. A parasocial relationship allows them to escape from reality or a way of finding a fulfilment that they can't achieve in their actual relationships.
The absorption-addiction model has two components:
- Absorption: seeking fulfilment in celebrity worship motivates the individual to focus their attention as far as possble on the celebrity, to become pre-occupied in their existence and identify with them.
- Addiction: the individual needs to sustain their commitment to the relationship by feeling a stronger and closer involvement with the celebrity. This may lead to more extreme behaviours and delusional thinking.
The Attachment Theory Explanation
Psychologists have suggested that there is a tendency to form parasocial relationships in adolescence and adulthood because of attachment difficulties in early childhood.
Bowlby's attachment theory suggested such early difficulties may lead to emotional troubles later in life.
Mary Ainsworth (1979) identified two attachment types associated with unhealthy emotional development: insecure-reistant and insecure-avoidant.
Insecure-resistant types are most likely to form parasocial relationships as adults. This is because they need to have unfulfilled needs met, but in a relationship that is not accompanied by the treat of rejection, break-up and disappointment that real-life relationships bring.
Insecure-avoidant types, on the other hand, prefer to avoid the pain and rejection of relationships altogether, whether they be social or parasocial.
- Support for the absorption-addiction model: Maltby and his colleague (2005) investigated the link between celebrity worship and body image in males and females ages 14 to 16 years. Of particular interest were females reporting an intense-personal parasocial relationship with a female celebrity whose body shape they admired. This confirms the prediction of a correlation between the level of celebrity worship and poor psychological functioning.
- Problems with attachment theory: McCutcheon et al (2006) measured attachment types and celebrity-related attitudes in 299 participants. The researchers found the participants with insecure attachments were no more likely to form parasocial relationships with celebrities than participants with secure attachments.
- Methodological issues: there are two major issues. Most research studies on parasocial relationships use self-report methods to collect data. Most studies use correlational analysis. This issue of cause-and-effecy could be addressed by longitudinal research but this is currently lacking in this field.
- Problems with the absorption-addiction model: the model has been criticised for being a better descriptoon of parasocial relationships than it is an explanation. It does not explain how such characteristics develop.
- Cultural influences: Schmid and Klimmt (2011) report that this tendency is not culturally specific. They found similar levels of parasocial attachment to Harry Potter in an individualist culture and a collectivist culture.