Rewards/Needs Satisfaction Model

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What is the Rewards/Needs Satisfaction Model?

Byrne and Clore (1970) proposed the rewards/needs satisfaction model. This works on the idea that relationships are formed when rewards are given and needs are satisfied. If this does not happen then a relationship is not formed. 

The behaviourist approach uses operant and classical conditioning to explain why the use of rewards helps to form relationships. 

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Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning works through the use of positive and negative reinforcement. In the context of relationships, positive reinforcement for forming a relationship would be rewards such as companionship, gifts or sex. Negative reinforcement for forming a relationship could include not wanting to be alone. 

A study done by Aron et al (2005) looked at MRI scans of 17 participants who claimed to be intensely in love. The participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire rating the degree of their feelings. They then had MRI scans to measure the activity of dopamine rich areas of the brain associated with rewards. 

When the participant was shown a photo of their love interest, the dopamine rich areas of the brain was activated. Furthermore, there was a positive correlation between the activation of these areas and the degree of their feelings.

Aron et al concluded that this shows that being in love is rewarding, and therefore is positive reinforcement in itself. 

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Evaluation of Aron et al (2005)

Small sample of Participants

Aron's study only uses 17 participants meaning that the sample cannot be representative of all people, creating generalisation issues. The other problem with such a small sample group is that there is a greater statistical deviation, leading to inaccuracies.


Another problem with this study is that the results are correlational. This means that cause and effect cannot be established; we can't tell if being in love causes the activation of dopamine rich areas of the brain or if the activation of dopamine rich areas of the brain causes you to be in love. 

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Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning works by pairing a positive or negative stimulus with a neutral stimulus to create the same reaction. Within relationship formation, this means that if a positive stimulus i.e. a party is paired with a neutral stimulus i.e. potential partner, that they are more likely to have an attraction, as the neutral stimulus will have a positive response.

May and Hamilton (1980) carried out a study on women, looking at the role that association played in relationship formation. They asked participants to rate photos of men in terms of physical appearance whilst listening to rock music (the positive stimulus), no music (a neutral stimulus) and modern music (a negative stimulus). 

They found that the participants rated photos more harshly when listening to modern music (the negative stimulus) showing that association with a good feeling can make it more likely that you will be attracted to someone. 

However, being attracted to someone doesn't necessarily make the formation of a relationship more likely, as there are many other factors involved such as opportunity. 

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Evaluation and IDA

Rewards and Formation

Not all rewards lead to formation of relationship. The association of a good feeling doesn't always predict the formation of relationships as there are many factors involved. For example, a one night stand wouldn't necessarily predict formation, highlighting that rewards alone (i.e. sex) are not enough to initiate a relationship. 

Relationships without Rewards

There are many relationships formed without the use of rewards and conditioning. For example, a parent/child relationship do not seem to be driven by the need for reinforcement. This suggests an overemphasis on the need for rewards in the initation of relationships. 

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Evaluation and IDA


The model is deterministic, as it suggests that when provdided with positive and negative reinforcement, we will form a relationship even though we know this not to be true. The implication is therefore that if rewards are not offered then a relationship will not be formed. Hays (1985) showed that people are often more concerned with equity than rewards, challeniging the deterministic view that our main aim is to seek rewards for ourselves.

Culturally Biased

This model has a cultural bias towards individualistic or Western Culture. In collectivist cultures, the women are socialised to put the needs of others before their own meaning that they do not expect rewards for relationships to be formed. It could that the rewarding aspect of the relationship is to be seen as caring by others, but this breaks down the rewards mechanism of the model. 

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