A2 - Psychology - The formation of relationships

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  • Created on: 21-10-15 22:19

The formation of relationships

Explanations of relationship formation

Sociobiological explanations

Sociobiology is the study of social behaviours in terms of evolutionary processes. Sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists explain behaviour in terms of the adaptive pressures faced by our distant ancestors millions of years ago in the environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA). these pressures shaped human behaviour at that time and are still active today, unconsciously guiding the mate choice of women and men. The pressures would have been different for men and women because of their different reproductive investments - described as parental investment.

Parental investment Human females invest a great deal in their offspring, being pregnant for nine months and providing intense care for their children. As a consequence, the best strategy for women, in evolutionary terms, is to have relatively few offspring over their lifetime and focus their energy on ensuring that any reproduction is successful. It is imperative, therefore, that a female should look for a successful partner who is able to provide resources for her and her offspring to enhance the likelihood of her reproductive success.

On the other hand, the parental investment of men is low because they can provide sperm at almost no physiological cost. Therefore male reproductive success should be concerned with mating as frequently as possible. However, this will be enhanced if men choose partners who are fertile.

Evolutionarily significant characteristics The fatcs of parental investment lead us to predict that women will seek signs of resource potential and men will seek signs of fertility. Resource potential is indicated by wealth and power, fertility is demonstarated by youthfulness and healthiness - individuals who are young and healthy are more likely to be fertile. On way to assess youthfulness is in terms of physical appearance, such as smooth skin, white teeth, shiny hair and good muscle tone, which all indicate youthfulness and healthines.

Characterisitics such as smooth skin and glossy hair are also signs of genetic quality, and such signs would be important to both men and women when selecting a mate in order to enhance successful reproduction.

Physical attractiveness As we have just seen, physical characteristics are important in attraction because of their evolutionary significance. People who are physically attractive generally posses characteristics that would in some way guarantee breeding success. Physical attractiveness may affect initial attraction through a positive sterotype - if someone is physically attractive, we attribute other positive characteristics to them as well. They are, for example, perceived as sexually warmer, more sociable and more socially skilled. (Feingold 1992). This is called the halo effect. It follows, therefore, that we would be more attracted to physically attractive people, and that physical attractiveness is an important mediating factor in the initial stages of relationship formation. 

Social exchange theory (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959)

Profit and loss At the centre of this theory is the assumption that all social behaviour is a series of exchanges; individuals attempt to maximise their rewards and minimise their costs. In our society, people exchange resources with the…


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