Theories of Romantic Relationships - Rusbult's Investment Model

  • Created by: frankie11
  • Created on: 26-04-19 18:56

Investment Theory

-          Investment Theory: this is another development of social exchange theory. It suggests that when deciding on whether to continue a relationship or not, more has to be considered than just the current level of satisfaction. Potential alternative relationships and how much has already been invested into the relationship are also important.

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Investment Size

-          Investment size: what distinguishes investments from rewards and costs is the idea that once invested, they can’t be easily recovered after a break up as they might be difficult to divide.

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Categories of Investment

-          INTRINSIC: these are resources put directly into the relationship, such as time, emotional support and self disclosure.

-          EXTRINSIC: these are resources that used to be outside of the relationship but are now strongly connected to it, such as shared friendships, memories, material possessions and events or activities.

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-          Investments: they can be rewarding or costly. For example, a shared friendship would be rewarding but spending money on dates would be costly.

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-          Commitment: commitment is increased by the amount of investment. This is because a partner feels locked into the connection as breaking up would mean having to sacrifice the resources that you have put into the relationship.

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Evaluative Research - Rusbult (1983)

-          Rusbult (1983): did a longitudinal questionnaire on 17 males and 17 females in heterosexual relationships. They were asked questions about costs, benefits, investment and comparison with alternatives. He found that as relationships developed, higher investment size resulted in greater commitment and a reduction in the perception of the quality of alternatives. This suggests that commitment is linked to the amount of investment put into a relationship which can ultimately influence a stay or leave decision.

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Evaluative Research - Rusbult (1983)

-          However, this study may lack validity because few couples will regularly intensively rate their relationships, as required by Rusbult. This is usually an unconscious process so the findings may not truly reflect how relationships work.

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Evaluative Research - Rhatigan and Axsom (2006)

-          Rhatigan and Axsom (2006): used Rusbult’s investment model scale to measure the amount of commitment, investment, comparison with alternatives and satisfaction of women who had suffered intimate partner violence. They found that women who had higher levels of investment were linked to higher levels of commitment. This suggests that the investment model can explain why some people stay in illogical relationships. However, these findings cannot be generalised to people outside of abusive relationships.

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Building Evaluation

-          Investment model is able to explain relationships that SET and ET can’t, such as abusive relationships. It can also explain why a seemingly satisfying relationship can end due to the presence of an attractive alternative and low investment.


-          It is likely that investment theory is a concept that applies across many cultures but with differing considerations of what counts as an investment. This suggests that the model is flexible. Also, a meta analysis by Le and Agnew in 2003 showed that the theory applied to at least 5 cultures and to homosexual couples.

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Building Evaluations

-          Investment model may be a good explanation for the endurance of long-term relationships but it may not be able to explain how relationships can survive in the early stages, despite difficulties and low investment costs.


-          The research used for investment theory is correlational, meaning that a cause and effect relationship can’t be established. It could be that high commitment causes high investment.

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