Psychology A2: Romantic Relationships

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Formation: Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory

  • We are attracted to people who provide us with direct reinforcement. Rewarding stimuli lead to positive feelings.
  • We are attracted to people associated with pleasant events. Similar to classical conditioning.


  1. Griffitt and Guay - found that a particpant would rate (for liking) the experiementer higher based upon a positive evaluation.
  2. Culturally Biased - not a universal explanation for formation.
  3. Lack of Mundane Realism - often experiments are conducted in lab conditions which do not reflect principles of need satisfaction in real life.
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Formation: Similarity

  • We sort people first for dissimilarity and then similarity
  • We are attracted to people with similar personalities and attitudes.
  • We are therefore more likely to form relationships with people who have complementary personality traits.


  • Lehr and Geher - Descriptions of an imaginary stranger (with varying levels of similarity to the participants) were rated. This 'stranger' was liked more if they were similar to the individual rating them. 
  • Rosenbaum - Dissimilarity is more important when looking at formation. 
  • Universal Theory - Culturally supported.
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Maintenance: Social Exchange Theory

  • Commitment to a relationship is based upon the profitability. Think of it as a business, rewards and costs. Humans are selfish and if the rewards do not outweigh the costs (eg. wasted effort) then it may be vunerable for termination. 
  • To judge if a relationship is worthwhile we use Comparison Level (CL) and Comparison Level for Alternatives (CLA).
  • CL - previous experiences plus expectations.
  • CLA - new partner rewards minus costs of ending current relationship.


  • Profit and Loss - Explains abusive relationships, if they leave they may be in a worse situation eg. financially.
  • Focuses only on selfish concerns.
  • Culturally Bias - Moghaddan suggests that this theory would only apply in western cultures due to high mobility. Those in non-western cultures may value security more than personal profit.
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Maintenance: Equity Theory

People strive to achieve fairness.

Inequitable Relationships: They give a lot to recieve little in return. Or they recieve a lot and give little in return.

These would therefore lead to dissatisfaction.

Equitable relationships are based upon ratio of inputs and outputs, for it to work there must be equal benefits and costs for both partners.


  • Stafford and Canary - Married couples who felt under benefitted had lower satisfaction levels than those who heavily gained from the relationship.
  • Clark and Mills - Does not represent romantic relationships as we are governed to respond to the needs of our partner regardless of equity.
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Breakdown: Reasons for Breakdown

Duck (1999) suggests:

  • Lack of Skills - leading to unrewarding behaviour. 
  • Lack of Stimulation - boredom.
  • Maintenance Difficulties - eg. Long distance or difficult circumstances.


  • Boekhout - These factors may explain extramarital affairs, infidelity amongst males may be due to the lack of excitement. Whereas infidelity in females tends to be occur because they feel emotionally neglected.
  • Holt and Stone - However they found that in modern day socieity people use different management strategies to sucessfully maintain relationships espeically in long term situations. Therefore maintenance difficulties do not always lead to breakdown
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Breakdown: Model of Breakdown

Rollie and Duck 2006

Breakdown (Dissatisfaction)

Intrapsychic Processes (Dwells on costs and faults)

Dyadic Processes (Discuss their feelings with partner)

Social Processes (Dissatisfaction is shared with people outside the relationship)

Grave Dressing (Does not want to be portrayed unfavouably)

Resurrection Process (Redefining themselves for new relationships)


  • Tashio and Frazier - Support for the model when asking undergraduates about their relationship breakdown experiences.
  • Emphasises the value of communication to determine the stage they are experiencing.
  • Ethical Issues - Sensitive area to discuss.
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