Psychology: Relationship Formation - Outline & Evaluate One or More Theories of Relationship Formation (24 Marks)

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  • Created on: 22-09-13 19:41

Psychology: Relationships – Formation                      Jasmin Nash

Outline & Evaluate One or More Theories of Relationship Formation (24 Marks)
Relationships effect all of us, we experience different kinds of relationships from family and friendships to romantic relationships. Psychologists have investigated and created many theories to why/ how we form relationships, two of which are the Reward/ Need Satisfaction (RNS) theory and the matching hypothesis theory.

Byron & Clore's (1970) reward/ need satisfaction theory suggests that we form relationships in order to satisfy our needs that have so far been unmet through rewards so we form relationships with those who we find most rewarding to be with. If no or little reward is given, a relationship will not form. This theory is based around the behaviourist principles of operant and classical conditioning.

Skinner's operant conditioning demonstrates that behaviour is encouraged to be repeated when reinforced with rewards and punishments so in the case of a relationship, if a person satisfies our needs/ rewards us (through love or attention) it results in us seeking further contact with them thus forming a relationship. Through classical conditioning People learn to associate the person (neutral stimulus) with a positive attitude (unconditioned response), so overtime the person (conditional stimulus) eventually becomes a trigger for them to become happy (conditional response) when in their presence.


Reseach conducted by Griffit & Guay (1966) supports the RNS theory. Participants took part in a creative task, were given an evaluation and were then asked to rate how much they liked the experimenter and an onlooker they had never met. They found that this rating was highest for both when the experimenter had positively evaluated the participants performance. Griffitt & Guay suggested that the participants were attracted to the experimenter because he provided a reward and associated this positive event with the onlooker also causing an attraction therefore supporting the principles of operant and classical conditioning of the RNS.

This experiment can be criticised for taking a large jump from the findings to supporting the theory. This study shows a liking, not necessarily a relationships formation and simply liking the experimenter doesn't mean a romantic attraction has occurred and even then there is a jump between an attraction and a relationship being formed. Griffitt & Guay's findings are hard to generalise to the theory because the experiment itself lacks validity, plus other factors such as similarities and opportunities play a part in relationship formation too.

The study may be affected by demand characteristics and observer effects such as the Hawthorne effect and social desirability. Participants were aware they were being observed, so may have changed their behaviour to fit experiment (Hawthorne effect) or did so to be seen in a positive light (social desirability) which means the results would not be based on natural human behaviours therefore it is unreliable.


The importance of reward level in determining relationship satisfaction is

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