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The Breakdown of Relationships

  • Duck (1999) proposed three reasons for the breakdown of relationships, these are: lack of skills, lack of stimulation and maintenance difficulties. 
  • Relationships are difficult because they lack interpersonal skills to make them mutually satisfying.
  • Individuals who lack social skills may be poor conversationalists thus are poor at indicating their interest in others and are likely to be unrewarding in their interactions.
  • In some circumstances where the relationship becomes strained simple because partners cannot see each other enough, it is evident that maintenance difficulties become overwhelming and thus the relationship breaks down. 
  • It has been found that within our present society long-distance romantic relationships and friendships are much more common than suggested.
  • Rohlfing found that 70% of students sampled had experience at lead one long distance romantic relationship and 90% had experienced a long distance friendship.
  • Holt and Stone found that there was little decrease in relationship satisfaction as long as lovers are able to reunite regularly. 
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The Breakdown of Relationships

Duck and Rollie created a model of the breakdown of relationships, suggesting that in order to for the relationship to breakdown these stages must occur.

  • The breakdown is where there is dissatisfaction with the relationship, the intrapsychic process it where the individual withdraws themselves socially; brooding on the partner’s faults and relational costs thus leading the individual to re-evaluate alternative to relationships.
  • This then leads to the dyadic process where the individual discusses their discontents, the relationship may be saved at this point due to a reassessment of goals, possibilities or commitment, or it may break down further.
  • Social processes then occur where individuals will seek support from third parties and denigration of the partner.
  • The penultimate stage is the grave-dressing process leading the individual to tidy up memories; making relational histories.
  • The final stage is the resurrection process where the individual recreates a sense of own social value thus defining what to get out of future relationships. 

It can be argued that this model is deterministic as it suggests that the individual will follow these stages leading to a breakdown in the relationship. It ignores the individual’s free will, as some individuals may have more of an innate willingness to save a relationship. 

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The Breakdown of Relationships

  • Akert provided a criticism for this model. Instigators of break-ups suffer fewer negative consequences than non-instigators - Duck and Rollie use the same model for both instigators and non-instigators. This suggests that the model ignores individual differences such as this one
  • By carrying out research in this sensitive area raises particular issues of vulnerability, privacy and confidentiality. A woman in an abusive relationship may fear recrimination from her abuser should he discover her participation in the research - Ultimately the researcher faces a choice of pursuing valuable information or terminating their involvement with a participant to prevent any further harm befalling them
  • Culturally biased, rooted in Western culture. Non-Western cultures have arranged marriages, which are generally regarded as permanent. Marital crises of these relationships are also seen as the concern of the entire family.
  • Gender differences: Women are more likely to stress unhappiness and incompatibility, whereas men are particularly upset by ‘sexual with-holding.’ Women have more desire to stay friends after a relationship where as men want to ‘cut their losses’ and move on. 
  • Model does have practical applications in counselling. Assessing which stage a couple is in can help to identify what steps should be taken to save the relationship. Paying attention to what people say and how they interact will help their stage to be identified therefore appropriate interventions can then be used. 
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The Breakdown of Relationships

Research Supporting the model: 

Tashiro and Frazier surveyed students whose relationships had recently broken down. They reported to have experienced emotional distress as well as personal growth, stating that these breakdowns had given them a clearer idea about future relationships. This provides evidence for both the grave-dressing and resurrection stages of the model

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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour

  • Intrasexual selection refers to mate competition. Members of one sex compete with each other for members of the other sex. The ‘victors’ are able to mate and pass on their genes.
  • Intersexual selection: This form of selection involves the preferences of one sex for members of the opposite sex who possess certain qualities, the preferences of one sex determines the areas in which the other sex must compete.
  • These preferences are indicators that reveal traits which could be passed on to offspring, as well as information about the chances of the mate being able to give protection and support to the offspring. 
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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour

Short Term Mating: 

  • According to parental investment theory, men have evolved a greater desire for casual sex they would ideally seek sex earlier in a relationship. This is due to the notion of successfully passing on their genes.
  • Over the period of one year a male who managed to impregnate a large number of females would have passed on more copies of his genes.
  • Buss proposed that the less time a man permits to elapse before he has sexual intercourse with a woman, the larger the number of women he can impregnate in a given time.
  • In contrast, a female who had sex with the same number of men in the same time period would only produce a single child.
  • Men appear to lower their standards in the context of short-term mating opportunities and then show a marked decreased in attraction following sex. This is an evolved adaption to bring about a hasty departure which prevents them spending too long with one woman. 
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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour

Long Term Mating

  • Both sexes invest heavily in any offspring, as a consequence of this; sexual selection should favour high levels of choosiness in both sexes.
  • Women have an obligatory biological investment in their children; they are predicted to be very particular about their choice of mate. Buss suggested that this means women are attracted to a male who is able to invest resources in her and her offspring, they are able to physically protect her and her children, they should show promise as a good parent
  • Males would be attracted to females who display signals of fertility such as youth and wide child bearing hips as an indication of their reproductive value. 
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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour

Long Term Mating and Intersexual Selection: Research Support

  • Buss explored what males and females looked for in a marriage partner.
  • The study involved over 10,000 people from 37 different cultures.
  • Women desired mates who had ‘good financial prospects’ thus translating into a desire for men with resources or qualities that were linked to resource acquisition.
  • Men placed more importance on physical attractiveness showing that physical appearance provides a wealth of cues to a woman’s health and hence her fertility and reproductive value.
  • Men universally wanted mates who were younger, an indication that men valued increased fertility in potential mates.
  • Whereas both sexes wanted mates who were intelligent, kind and dependable linking with a skill at parenting, an interest in long-term relationships and a willingness to help a mate in times of trouble 
  •  Methodology: Buss did not use a representative sample - In his study people living in rural areas were underrepresented as were those individuals who were less educated as the study relied on people completing a questionnaire.
  • The sampling method created another problem as is varied widely across cultures and he used opportunity and self-selecting samples, both of which are not random and could introduce sampling bias.
  • The survey of mate choice conducted by Buss could be argued to lack validity as they give us an indication of expressed preferences rather than being a reflection of what actually happens in real life. 
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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour


  • It can also be argued that the theory of sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour is deterministic. If a relationship is driven by this theory then it would be highly predictable
  • Evolutionary explanations are deterministic. It assumes that all men will be motivated to have a high number of sexual partners and be less inclined towards a long term committed relationship and that all women are motivated by the resources a male has to offer. This ignores the role of free will and choice that both males and females have in deciding what relationships they want. 
  • Fails to explain the change in reproductive behaviour, for example homosexuality the attraction of the same sex which clearly does not contribute to the survival of the species. Same sex relationships seem to have existed in most cultures throughout recorded history, so explanation for sexual selection cannot explain these relationships, therefore it cannot be generalised to all relationships.
  • Widespread use of contraception provides more control over the ‘survival of the species’ as it reduces the chances of becoming impregnated, therefore the theory of human reproductive behaviour can be discredited as contraception reduces the chance of passing on any genes. 
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Sexual selection and Human reproductive behaviour


  • Sex differences in reproductive behaviour could also be explained by an alternative perspective. It could be argued using the social approach that the idea that men are motivated to sleep around is something that is created and reinforced by society and socialisation. 
  • Behavioural approaches would also explain this via the role of the media. The media could have a role via social learning theory as there are many social models in the media where males are exposed to this behaviour. Sexually promiscuous behaviour is also celebrated by the male peer group and this could be an alternative reason for this sex difference. 

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The Maintenance of Relationships

Equity Theory

  • Proposed by Walster et al focuses on the rewards and costs of a relationship. It was concluded that social behaviour is a series of exchanges.
  • The Equity theory is an extension of underlying beliefs with a central assumption that people strive to achieve fairness in a relationship, therefore they feel stress is they perceive unfairness; the greater the inequity the greater the dissatisfaction with the relationship.
  • An equitable relationship should be one where one partner’s benefits minus their costs equals there partner’s benefits less their costs. In order for a relationship to be maintained it must be equitable

Research Support: 

De Maris: 1500 couples as part of the national surey of families and households found that only subjective index of inequity is associated with disruption.If a women feels underbenefitted there is a greater risk of divorves - Shows marital inequity is associated with later marital disruption

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The Maintenance of Relationships

Social Exchange Theory 

  • Thibaut and Kelley - Profit and Loss: To maximise rewards and minimise costs people exchange resources with expectation that they will earn 'profit.' Rewards that exceed costs incurred - rewards may be companionship and sex
  • Coss include effort, finanial investment and time wasted
  • Commitment to a relationshipship is dependent on profitability of outcome 

Comparison level: A standard against which all relationships are judged. It is the product of experiences in other relationships with general views of what we might expect from exchange. 

Simpson et al: Asked participants to rate members of the opposite sex in terms ofattractiveness. Thos who were involved in a relationship gave lower ratings - the partner they are with exceeds comparison level whereas to rate others may not exceed comparison level 

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The Maintenance of Relationships


  • A major criticism of this theory is its selfish nature. It suggests that in a romantic relationship we only consider our own satisfaction rather than the feelings of our partner.
  • Each partner has to contribute very different amounts for the relationship to remain equitable; this is a very restricted view of how relationships are maintained.
  • Economic models such as the Equity theory can be argued to be nomothetic as it studies the ‘laws’ of romantic relationships supporting the idea that it is a restricted view.

The Equity theory does not explain why women stay in abusive relationships. Rusbult and Martz argued that when investments are high and alternatives are low this could be considered a profit situation creating an explanation for why women may stay in abusive relationships. This challenge’s the Equity theory as ‘abusive’ behaviour would create distress, therefore creating greater inequity leading to dissatisfaction with the relationship.     

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The Maintenance of Relationships


  • Economic models such as this devalue romantic relationships as it disregards the notion of love and the complex emotions involved in relationships.
  • The model can also be argued to be culturally biased as it focuses on relationships within individualist cultures. It cannot be applied to collectivist cultures where relationships are formed with the interest of the family unit in mind.

For example within some cultures marriages are arranged. Each spouse may not want to be in a romantic relationship and therefore would perceive distress creating inequity, however with the family unit in mind they must abide by their family’s wishes. 

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Influence of Childhood on Adult Relationships

Parent-child relationships: 

Childhood provides us with many experiences which shapes how we interact with the world when we are older. Although everybody’s childhood is unique, psychologists have identified persistent childhood experiences that pre-dispose us towards particular types of relationships.

Shaver et al argued that experience of romantic love in adulthood is an integration of 3 behavioural systems.

1. The first system relates to the attachment type related to the internal working model.

2. The behaviour of the infant’s primary attachment figure promotes an internal working model of relationships; therefore the child expects similar relationships later in life.

3. The caregiving system is knowledge about how one cares for others, this is learnt by modelling the behaviour of the primary attachment figure.

4. The sexuality system is also learnt in relation to early attachment; for example individuals who suffered from an avoidant attachment are more likely to hold the view that sex without love is pleasurable. 

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The Influence of Childhood on Adult Relationships


·         It can be argued that this view of how attachment theory is deterministic. It suggests that very early experiences have a fixed effect on later adult relationships thus suggesting that children who are insecurely attached are doomed to experience unsatisfactory relationships as adults.

·         It does not take into account sex differences between boys and girls. Erwin found that boy’s relationships tend to be more competitive, whereas girls are more likely to engage in cooperative and sharing activities. Erwin claims that sex differences in the experience of childhood relationships have been over empathised and that the many similarities tend to be overlooked.

Research conducted by Fraley found correlations from .10- .50 between early attachment types and later relationships, which is a fairly strong link. Fraely suggested that the low correlations may be because insecure-anxious attachment is more unstable. However there are concerns over the stability of attachment types, it could be that an individual’s attachment type is determined by the current relationship, which is why happily married individuals are secure. Attachment theory does suggest that significant relationship experiences may alter attachment organisation. 

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The Influence of Childhood on Adult Relationships


  • Experiences throughout an individual's life, as well as genetic factors, can also affect the functioning of adult relationships.
  • The temperament hypothesis is an alternative explanation that sees the quality of adult relationships as being determined biologically by innate personality factors. This hypothesis suggests that attachment styles are irrelevant to adult relationships and thus that attempts to develop better-quality relationships by changing people's attachment styles to more positive ones will not work.
  • Although dating in adolescence can improve the quality of adult relationships, romantic experience in early to middle adolescence has been associated with negative outcomes in later adult relationships. This suggests that the timing of romantic relationships in adolescence determines what influence, if any, they will have.
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The Influence of Childhood on Adult Relationships

Interaction with Peers: 

  • Childhood friendships: Qualter and Munn have shown children learn from their experiences with other children. The way a child thinks about themself and others is determined, this is then internalised. 

Nangle et al: Children's friendships are training grounds for important adult relationships - close friendships are characterised by affection. This promotes feelings of trust and acceptance which is important in later romantic relationships. 

  • Adolescent relationships: Attachment shifts from parents to peers. Relationships in adolscents help to achieve goals of separation from parents - redirect intense interpersonal energy towards romantic partner

Madsen: Tested effects of dating behaviour in adolescence on the quality of young adults romantic relationships. They found moderate/low dating frequenc however predcited higher quality young adult relationships. 

Heavy dating = poorer quality: dating in adolescence is advantageous 

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Parental Investment

  • Parental investment is defined as ‘any investment by a parent in an offspring that increases the chance that the offspring will survive at the expense of that parent’s ability to invest in any other offspring.’

The most obvious sex difference in human parental investment is that males can opt out of parental investment in a way that females cannot.

  • Parental investment theory states that the sex that makes the larger investment will, therefore, are the more sexually discriminating, whereas the sex that makes the smaller obligatory parental investment will compete for access to the higher-investing sex.
  • In humans, because females invest more in the offspring this means that they will be more discriminating in their choice of partner, and males will compete with other males for access to the higher-investing females. 
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Parental Investment

Maternal Investment: 

  • The investment made by females is considerably greater than that made by males. The female produces far fewer gametes over the course of her lifetime than the male produces.

One explanation for why females invest more is through the evolutionary approach. As brain size increased in response to adaptive pressures this resulted in a more difficult childbirth because of the enlargement of the skull.

  • To compensate for this childbirth in humans occurs earlier in development, meaning infants are born relatively immature compared to other animals.
  • As a consequence human females breastfeed their young, and so are more burdened by the extended period of childcare that results from this prolonged immaturity.

Human mothers therefore not only make the greater prenatal contribution of resourced but make the larger postnatal contribution as well. 

  • For our distant ancestors the minimum parental investment would have been  9-month pregnancy followed by years of breast feeding and carrying
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Parental Investment

Paternal Investment: 

  • The minimum obligatory investment made by human males is considerably less than that of females. A man can potentially father an unlimited number of children, therefore indiscriminate mating tends to be much less costly for a man.
  • However when males do invest parentally they are under pressure to protect themselves from the possibility of cuckoldry.

As males make a considerable investment in their children they have a greater concern than females about the fidelity of their mates. As a result they try to ensure that their care is not misdirected towards non-relatives. 

  • A man whose mate was unfaithful risked investing in offspring that were not his own, whereas a woman whose mate was unfaithful risked the diversion of resources away from her family 
  • Sexual Jealousy evolved as a solution to these problems

Men are more jealous of the sexual act (avoiding cuckoldry) while women are more jealouse of the shift in emotional focus (consequent loss of resources) 

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Parental Investment


Evolutionary perspective of parental investment as limited & suggest that various personal and social factors determine men’s parental behaviour. - REDUCTIONIST

  • These factors include the quality of the relationships with the mother and the personality characteristics of the father.
  • Belsky claims that childhood experience such as divorce tends to correlate with the degree to which men invest in the upbringing of their own children. 

Parental certainty is not always an issue: Anderson found that men invested no more resources in their biological children than in their step-children, challenging the theory of Parental investment.

Males do invest: Research conducted by Reid shows that human males do contribute to parenting by providing resources - allowing the child to live in a healthy environment thus decreasing child/infant mortality. 

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Parental Investment


A physiological approach can be used to explain the differential costs of parental investment among males & females. A study by Geher et al. found that males showed greater arousal of the autonomic nervous system than females when presented with examples that show the cost of parenting-  males appear biologically less prepared than females to deal with the issues associated with parenting.

Buss found that US male student indicated more concerns about sexual infidelity, whereas females expressed emotional infedility. This is supported by physiological responses when asked to imagine scene of sexual/emotional infidelity. However, Harris found that men rended to respond with greater arousal to any sexual imagery - challenging the view that sex differences in jealousy is an adaptive response in males and females. 

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Influence of Culture on Romantic Relationships

Voluntary and non-voluntary relationships:

  • A distinguishing feature of many Western cultures is that we live in predominately urban settings, with relatively easy geographical and social mobility. This ensures that we voluntarily interact with a a large number of people.
  • Western cultures therefore appear to be characterised by a high degree of choice in romantic relationships and a greater ‘pool’ of potential relationships.
  • Non-western cultures on the other hand have fewer large urban centres and less geographical and social mobility, and people therefore have less choice about whom they interact with on a daily basis.

Individual or group-based relationships: 

  • Western cultures place great importance on the rights and freedom of the individual, with individual happiness and pleasure seen as fundamentally important. - Individualist
  • In non-western cultures the group tends to be the primary unit of concern, encouraged to be interdependent rather than independent. - Collectivist
  • Collectivism leads to relationships that may have more to do with the concerns of family or group
  • Individualist cultures the individuals interested are more highly regarded and is consistent with the formation of romantic relationships that are based on freedom of choice. 
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Influence of Culture on Romantic Relationships

The Importance of love in romantic relationships

  • As Western cultures typically base relationships on freedom of choice. We expect to find differences between western and not Western cultures regarding the importance of love in romantic relationships.

Levine et al investigated love as a basis for marriage in 11 countries. Respondents were asked whether they would be willing to marry someone who had all the qualities they desired in a marriage partner but whom they did not love.

The US respondents expressed a reluctance to marry in the absence of love however the figures from collectivist cultures, India and Thailand, were higher.

  • Suggesting a higher proportion of people in these cultures were prepared to marry in the absence of love. This suggests that in such cultures the extended family is of greater importance and romantic love is considered a comparative luxury.
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Influence of Culture on Romantic Relationships


  • Relationships are seen as a very personal and intimate subject it is difficult to assess ‘successful’ relationships as ideas of what a successful relationship is differs profusely, especially when comparing across cultures.
  • Individualistic cultures may see a relationship without love as unsuccessful, whereas this may seem successful in a collectivist culture if the family unit is content.

The research conducted by Goodwin et al supports this claim and could explain why divorce rates were fewer than 4% when partners were chosen by family members compared to 40% where a partner was chosen voluntarily. As the stigma of divorcing could cause the family unit to become unhappy therefore could prevent the couple from separating.

  • Historical bias - Significant increase in the number of voluntary and temporary relationships in the West in the past several decades, perhaps due to the increased urbanisation.
  • This would also explain the significant increase in voluntary relationships in non-western cultures such as India and China. 
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Influence of Culture on Romantic Relationships


  • Caution must be taken when observing cross-culturally as if observation are made by an outsider of the culture then potentially that person’s own culture will bias how they will interpret the data they observe, therefore the research conducted could lack objectivity. - Imposed Etics
  • Ethnocentric - conducted in similar countries. For example the study by Levine studied specific cultures, in order for this to be entirely valid studies must include a wide range of cultures that is representative of the whole population.

Kim and Berry suggested we should aim to develop more indigenous psychologies. Therefore we could then study aspects of relationships that are seen as important and meaningful within a particular culture rather than imposing aspects from our own culture. 

  • Evolutionary approach to romantic relationships suggests that relationships are largely universal and thus that culture should have little effect.

Janowiak and Fischer who found clear evidence of romantic love in most of the 166 pre-industrialised societies studied, suggesting that it is universal and therefore a product of evolutionary rather than cultural factors. 

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The Formation of Relationships

The reward/need satisfaction theory - Byrne and Clore.

Rewarding stimuli produces positive feelings in us and punishing stimuli produce negative feelings.

  • According to the principles of operant conditioning we are likely to repeat any behaviour that leads to a desirable outcome and avoid behaviours that lead to an undesirable outcome.
  • We enter into relationships because the presence of some individuals is directly associate with reinforcement which makes them more attractive to us.

We also like people who are associated with pleasant events. In this way, a previously neutral stimulus can become positively valued because of their association with a pleasant event (classical conditioning).

  • Byrne and Clore believed that the balance of positive and negative feelings was crucial in relationship formation.
  • Relationships where the positive feelings outweigh the negative feelings were more likely to develop and succeed, whereas relationships where the negative feelings outweighed the positive were likely to fail. 
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The Formation of Relationships

The similarity theory - Byrne, Clore and Smeaton  

  • Two distinct stages in the formation of relationships.People first sort potential partners for dissimilarity, and then from those remaining they are most likely to choose somebody who is similar to themselves.
  • Research has consistently demonstrated that people are more likely to be attracted to others who have similar personality traits.

Caspi and Herbener found that married couples with similar personalities seemed to be happier thus suggesting that similarity is more often the rule in the formation of relationships, especially in long-term relationships.

  • Research has also suggested that a process of ‘attitude alignment’ often occurs if partners have differing attitudes. In order for the relationship to develop, one or both partners may modify their attitudes so they become more similar. 
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The Formation of Relationships


  • Does not account for cultural and gender differences - Lott suggests that in many cultures women are more focused on the needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement. This suggests that the theory is not universal explanation of relationship formation and is therefore culturally biased.
  • We are attracted to people with similar personalities to ourselves, and we avoid those whose personalities are dissimilar ours

Similarity is important is because we assume that people who are similar to us will be more likely to like us, reducing the chance of rejection. When people share our attitudes and beliefs it tends to validate them, which in turn is rewarding. 

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The Formation of Relationships


  • Rosenbaum suggested that dissimilarity rather than similarity was the more important - dissimilarity-repulsion hypothesis. Research in various cultures has found that we are first attracted to someone because of similarity, but as we discover more dissimilarity we become less attracted to each other. - Singh and Tan


  • A criticism of research on similarity is that it has only dealt with similarities of personality and attitudes. This may represent only a narrow view of factors important in relationship formation therefore it is deterministic. Other factors such as similarity of self-concept, economic level and physical condition is also important. 


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