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Describe and Evaluate Two or More Theories of the Formation of Romantic Relationships

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Describe and evaluate two or more theories of the formation of romantic relationships (9 marks + 16 marks) January 2011
One theory that outlines the formation of relationships is the reward/ need satisfaction theory that was developed by Byrne and Clore (1970). The theory suggests that we form a relationship because the presence of a particular individual is associated with reinforcement. This is because rewarding stimuli creates positive feelings and these stimuli may be people. These people therefore make us happy, so, due to operant conditioning, we seek to adopt behaviours that lead to a desirable outcome and avoid those that lead to an undesirable outcome. Therefore, the presence of an individual produces positive reinforcement as they have a more attractive appeal. This theory also suggests that we are attracted to people if we meet them whilst we’re in a good mood, an example being at a party. As a result, previously neutral stimuli become positively valued as they are associated with the pleasant event, therefore meaning that we learn to like people through classical conditioning.
Griffit and Guay (1969) conducted a study to investigate how the reward/need satisfaction theory works and how well it is acceptable. Participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter. Later they were asked how much they liked the experimenter, and an onlooker who was present. The rating was highest when the experimenter had given positive evaluation of the task. This is rewarding the participant. They also rated the onlooker more highly if given positive feedback about their performance. This study shows that positive reinforcement, such as praise, will increase the likelihood of an individual rating that person more than they would if they had received no positive feedback. This supports the rewards/need satisfaction theory as it shows that receiving a reward makes the individual more attracted those who gave the reward. It does not, however, show us that giving rewards can give individuals a feeling of satisfaction which was put forward by Hays (1985). One limitation of this study was that it only involved an experimenter and onlooker and not with the assessment of real life couples. In addition, this study was a laboratory experiment which means that it lacks mundane realism. In contrast to this, Caspi and Herbener (1990) conducted a study on real life couples which has supported the claims.
Furthermore, Aron et al (2005) found that participants who measured very high on a questionnaire of romantic love also showed strong activity in areas of the brain rich in dopamine. Aron believed that this was an evolutionary adaptation to speed up mating and therefore makes people more able to form romantic relationships at a faster rate. One issue with this study is that the participants could have lied on the questionnaire in order to make their relationships seem better to avoid judgment. In addition, the participants could be having a good time with their partner and not having an argument at the time the study was conducted. This would affect the results because they would be unhappy if they had had an argument that day. However, the study included both self-report questionnaires and brain scans; this makes the results more reliable. This is because the brain scans show physical activity of dopamine in the brain which means that there is solid scientific evidence to support the study. This would therefore support the theory of the formation of relationships because the individual needs to feel rewarded (as shown with dopamine levels) to form a romantic relationship.
Moreover, Cate et al (1982) compared the importance of equity, equality and reward level in 337 individuals who were asked to assess their importance in relationship satisfaction. They found that reward level was the most important in forming a relationship. This study shows that rewards are an important factor in maintaining relationships as rewards are more important for satisfaction levels which highly important. A study by Aron et al showed that reward are important as those who said that they were in love with their partner showed higher levels of dopamine. This supports this study as there is measurable evidence. In contrast to this, the rewards/needs satisfaction theory only explores the rewards; however Hays (1985) found that individuals also feel satisfaction from giving rewards.
An issue with the reward/need satisfaction theory is the fact that it doesn’t account for gender or cultural differences. Lott (1994) said that women in some cultures are more focussed on the needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement. This refutes the theory as some people do not need reinforcement to form a relationship but require their partners’ needs to be fulfilled.
Another theory of the formation of romantic relationships is the Filter theory. According to this theory similarity between individuals stimulates liking and this leads to the formation of a romantic relationship. People first sort potential partners for dissimilarity so individuals are able to avoid those who appear to be too different from them. This makes us attracted to those of similar personalities and attitudes rather than those with dissimilar features. For example, two people who love dogs are more likely to become romantically attracted to each other compared to a person who loves dogs and a person who loves cats. It has been suggested that the main rule in relationships, especially long-term relationships, is similarity. This was found by Caspi and Herbener (1990) who found that married couples with similar traits tend to be happier than those with dissimilar traits. Research has found that individuals seek to modify their attitudes so they become more similar which is called attitude alignment. This enables a romantic relationship to develop.
Condon and Crano (1988) argued that similarity is important in the formation of romantic relationships because we assume that people similar to us are more likely to like us. This leads to romantic relationships as ruling out dissimilar people reduces the chances of being rejected as a partner. This supports the similarity theory as it states that people are more likely to form a relationship with others that have similarities; a necessity in forming a romantic relationship.
It has been argued by Yoshida (1972) that the similarity theory only looks at attitudes and personalities, ignoring traits such as economic level and physical condition. Yoshida points out that these factors are equally as important to similarities in personalities. This is backed up by Speakman et al (2007) who found that similar body fat is looked for in a partner, which supports Yoshida as it also suggests that other factors are considered during the formation of a relationship. This refutes the theory as it only looks at a small range of factors, whereas Yoshida indicates that others need to be considered when looking at the formation of a romantic relationship. However, this study only represents a very narrow view of factors which are important in a relationship and does not account for other factors, such as economic or ethic factors.
Lehr and Geher (2006) studied 24 male and 32 female students to test the importance of attitude similarity and reciprocal attraction in liking. They were given a description of a stranger with varying degrees of similarity and dissimilarity to the participants. There was also a statement that the stranger either liked or did not like the participant. They found that the stranger was liked significantly more for attitude similarity and liking. This study shows that people are more likely to be attracted to others who have similar attributes and attitudes. It supports the Filter theory because the findings show that similarities play a major role in being attracted to someone. In addition, their attitude towards us makes us decide whether we like them more or not. However the findings do not show whether the similarities, dissimilarities or the liking towards them had a bigger impact on the person’s choice to like them. One issue with this study is that the study was only conducted using students, therefore meaning that the findings cannot be generalised to the population. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account attractiveness and it wasn’t conducted in a real life situation which may have affected the results, therefore meaning that it is hard to apply to a real life situation which means that it is lacking mundane realism.
A positive issue brought up with the filter theory is culture. The dissimilarity repulsion hypothesis has been found to apply to many cultures, indicating that looking for dissimilarities could be a universal characteristic that individuals share. This supports the dissimilarity repulsion hypothesis as it has been found in several different cultures which provides evidence for its validity and reliability.
Most of the studies that have been carried out to investigate the formation of romantic relationship were done in laboratories. This means the results lack mundane realism as they were done under artificial settings. Though, the similarity theory and the dissimilarity repulsion hypothesis have been supported by Caspi and Herbener (1990) whose study had high mundane realism as they conducted it on real-life couples.…...

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