The formation of Romantic Relationships

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Reward Need Satisfaction Theory - Byrne and Clore

Basic idea : We form relationships through operant + classical condition

Operant conditioning

  • we're likely to repeat behaviour which leads to rewarding stimuli (makes us happy) + avoid behaviours that lead to punishing stimuli (makes us sad)
  • Rewarding stimuli reflects an individuals unmet needs e.g. financial security
  • Mutual attraction happens when each partner meets the others unmet needs
  • We enter relationships because the other individual = associated with direct renforcement making them more attractive to us

Classical conditioning

  • Also attracted to people associated with positive events
  • neutral stimuli (someone havent met before) + positive mood = positively valued stimuli
  • meet someone in negative mood = less inclined to like them
  • When positive feelings about someone outweigh the negative feelings it is more likely that a reationship is going to form and succeed


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Evaluating Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory

Griffit + Guay (1969)experimenter rater higher by participants when experimenter gave higher score on creative task

Sheldon et al (2011)  - low relationship satisfaction = go on facebook for unmet needs of interaction to be met, high reationship satisfaction = go on facebook to be sociable + reach out to others

Aron et al (2005) - intense romantic love = high activity in reward regions of brain where dopamine is high


Hays (1985) - People feel satisfaction from giving as well as receiving rewards

Lott (1994) - many cultures = women focus on partners needs rather than receiving reinforcement

Aron (2005)brains reward system evolved to speed up mating by making people focus on specific individuals

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Byrne, Clore and Smeaton (1986) Similarity Theory

  • Peope sort through potential partners based on dissimilarity, AVOID people with DIFFERENT ATTITUDES + PERSONALITIES
  • People then sort through who's left based on similarity to find their chosen partner
  • People more likely to be attracted to people with similar personality traits than dissimilar personality traits
  • In relationships attitudes align to avoid disagreements + for relationship to develop
  • One/both partners will modify attitudes to become more similar to the partner
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Evaluating Similarity Theory

Rosenbaum (1986)

  • people are attracted based on similarity 
  • As time passes dissimilarities make individuals less attracted to each other
  • dissimilarity is most important factor

Yoshida (1972)

  • similarity research ignores factors e.g. self concept, economic level, physical condition
  • Research shown people choose partners with similar body fat level

Similarity = important

  • people sharing our beliefs validates our beliefs (rewarding) 
  • we assume people similar to us are more likely to like us + less likely to reject us
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