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It is likely that we spend a lot of time in social relationships because we get something out of them, we find them rewarding

So this theory proposes that people are attracted to those they find rewarding to be with as they meet an unmet need eg. need for company/financiall security.

A long term relationship is more likely to be formed if it meets the needs of a partner and provides rewards.

We form relationships because of the rewards we receive.

Mutual attraction occurs when each partner meets the other persons need.

We might simply have relationships with others because we find being alone unrewarding; we may have a relationship because we get a reward or we may associate that person with positive feelings/mood. 

Therefore the idea for this theory is based on operant and classical conditioning.


Rewarding stimuli produce positive feelings, and punishing stimuli produce negative feelings.

Given that some of these stimuli are other people, it follows that some people make us happy and some do not.

In terms of operant conditioning, we are likely to repeat any behaviours that lead to a desirable outcome and avoid behviours that lead to an undesirable outcome, therefore we enter into relationships because the presense of some individuals is positively reinforcing, which is rewarding and makes them more attractive to us.


We like people who are associated with pleasant events.

If we meet someone when we are in a happy, positive mood we are much more inclined to like them than if e meet them when we are feeling unhappy.

In this way, a previously neutral stimulus (eg. ssomeone we had never met before and had no real feelings about) can become positively valueed because of their association with a pleasant event.


Most of the general criticisms about the behavioural model apply here such as: 

  • Nature/nurture
  • Reductionist
  • Culture
  • Good for friendships but can't account for all relationships.
  • Better for short term
  • Assumes people are selfish
  • Reinforcement depends on context.

GRIFFIT & GUAY: participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter and then asked to rate how much they liked the experimenter - highest ratings were given when…


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