Theories of Relationship Formation

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  • Created by: Rebecca
  • Created on: 05-05-15 22:40

Social Exchange Theory

Suggests that all human relationships are formed on a cost-benefit analysis and comparisons of alternatives. Everyone tries to maximise the rewards and minimise the costs, relationships last if they have equal rewards. Thibaut and Kelley identified four stages that long term relationships go through; sampling (rewards and costs are explored), bargaining (rewards and costs are agreed), commitment (couples have settled) and institutionalisation (norms are established). Past relationships provide a comparison level, how satisfied we are is based on what we've come to expect. We also compare alternatives, if the comparison level is high we are motivated to stay.

  • Hartfield et al (1979) found that the overbenefited partner felt guilt and the underbenefited partner had lowest levels of satisfaction and felt anger. Satisfaction was highest in those wth equal exchange. Equal exchange was found to be most important to women.
  • Macdonald and Ceretto (1977) found that adjustment to marriage was poorer in those concerned with exchange and equality.
  • Sociobiological approach suggests that we form relationships to reproduce.

Issues; don't apply to collectivist societies, studies have been short term and don't test relationship dynamics through time, it is more applicable to casual relationships.

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Sociobiological Approach

  • The sociobiological approach assumes behaviours are adaptive to promote the survival of the individual and reproduction. Successful formation means that genes will not die out, therefore we choose a partner to continue our genes.
  • Buss (1969) found that females and males seek sexual partners who are most liekly to produce healthy children. Men prefer younger women.
  • This contrasts to social exchange theory which suggests we choose a partner based on exchange and comparisons of alternatives.
  • Sociobiological theory accounts for close relationships within families - determined by genetic similarity. Parents share 50% of their DNA with children which explains why they devote so much to them.
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Kin Selection

  • Survival of an individual's genes will be ensured by helping the survival of close relatives.
  • Fellner and Marshall (1981) found that 86% of people were willing to be a kidney donor to their child, 67% were willing to be a kidney donor to their parent and just 50% would be a kidney donor to a sibling.
  • This theory suggests there is a tendency for us to ensure the survival of our genes supporting the sociobiological approach however similarly it doesn't explain all relationships; homosexual, heterosexual with no intention of children, friendships with non-relatives.
  • It does however account for the enormous amount of time parents devote to their children. It also fails to explain relationship failures except for inability to have children.
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Matching Hypothesis

Walster and Walster (1969) suggest that we are attracted to individuals that match us, we don't seek the most attractive partner. The compromise is necessary for fear of rejection or to achieve balance. Murstein (1972) examined photos of couples who were engaged or dating and found there was a definate tendency for couples to be similar in terms of attractiveness. Matching appears to be more important to couples who are married than those in early relationships. Towhey (1979) asked males and females to judge how much they would like a person based on a photo and biographical information, those scoring highly on a macho scale were more influenced by physical attractiveness. Murstein and Christy (1976) found that married couples were significantly more similar. The matching hypothesis has been extended to include matching on personality or proximity. Winch (1958) claimed married couples will be happy if they have complementary needs.

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