AQA A2 Psychology Unit 3 Relationships: The Formation, Maintenance And Breakdown of Romantic Relationships Notes

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A2 Psychology Unit 3 Relationships: The Formation, Maintenance And Breakdown of Romantic Relationships Notes

What You Need To Know:

  • Theories of the formation, maintenance and breakdown of romantic relationships: e.g. reinforcement/affect theory, social exchange theory, sociobiological theory.

Reinforcement/affect theory (Byrne and Clore, 1970):

  • Based on learning theory (classical and operant conditioning)
  • We make an indirect association between two events (classical conditioning) and either seek to engage in similar (direct) behaviours again if there are pleasurable consequences, or avoid them in future if unpleasant (operant conditioning)
  • The theory says that experiences in the relationship may or may not reinforce a positive affect (emotion).

Formation - If we experience positive feelings we are more likely to like the people around us at that time and possibly engage in behaviours that may result in our forming a relationship with them. If we experience negative feelings we are less likely to like the people.

Maintenance - If positive feelings develop we are more likely to stay in the relationship. As relationships develop the needs of partners change. The flexibility of the relationship to meet these changing demands will influence the reinforcement experienced.

Breakdown - If positive feelings (affect) are no longer generated the relationship may begin to breakdown because of lack of reinforcement. A behaviour may have once provided positive reinforcement, but no longer does. If this is the case the relationship may breakdown.

Research into reinforcement/affect theory:

May and Hamilton (1980) - Attraction and music

  • Female participants rated the attractiveness of attractive and unattractive males in photographs.
  • There were three conditions:

- Condition 1: Positive effect (Listening to rock-music).

- Condition 2: Negative effect (listening to unpleasant music).

- Condition 3: Neutral (Silence)

  • The results showed higher attractiveness in condition 1 than in the others.
  • The more positive we feel, the more attractive we find others.

Aronson and Linder (1965) - Reciprocal liking

  • Participants conducted a conversation with a person then later overheard the person expressing opinions about them to the researcher on seven different occasions.
  • There were four conditions:

- Condition 1: The person was entirely positive on all occasions.

- Condition 2: The person was entirely negative on all occasions.

- Condition 3: The person went from negative at first to positive.

- Condition 4: The person went from positive at first to negative.

  • Results showed that participants found the other person most attractive in condition 3.
  • The idea that someone grew to like them during a conversation increased attraction.

Griffith and Veitch (1971) - Comfort and liking

  • Participants were seated in comfortable or uncomfortable surroundings with a `stranger`.
  • Ratings of how much the participants `liked` the stranger were higher in comfortable surroundings.
  • The strangers had become associated with participants feelings at the time, as predicted by the theory.

Criticisms of reinforcement/affect theory:

  • Supporting evidence lacks ecological validity - a good deal of it is lab-based using very unrealistic tasks.
  • The theory may be culturally biased. Lott (1994) suggests that different behaviours are rewarding to different cultures.
  • The theory could be regarded as


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