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Formation of Relationships

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Outline and evaluate two theories of the formation of relationships (25 marks) Two theories into the formation of relationships are the reward/need satisfaction theory (Byrne and Clore, 1970) and the similarity theory (Byrne, Clore and Smeaton, 1986). Both theories outline why people are attracted to specific individuals, and why some relationships are more likely to work and develop than others. The reward/need theory suggests that we are attracted to people who fulfil our unmet needs (financial security, company etc). Using the principles of the learning theory, the reward/need satisfaction theory presents two possible reasons for the formation of relationships. First, operant conditioning suggests that we are likely to repeat any behaviour which leads to positive outcomes. Applying this to relationships, it can be said that people act as rewarding or punishing stimuli, and we are likely to form relationships with those individuals who reinforce positive feelings in us, by fulfilling our unmet demands. This approach to the formation of romantic relationships can be seen as reductionist, as it simplifies attraction by suggesting that people base their relationships on reward and punishment. ...read more.


Also, this research can be related to the nature/nurture debate, as it shows the role of brain activity in the way we feel. According to the learning theory, and, by extension, the reward/need satisfaction theory, people develop through social stimulus, and by their experiences. This is in favour of the nurture side of the debate. However, Aron et al's research shows support for the nature side of the debate, as it suggests that the feelings of reward associated with attraction may have evolved to speed up the mating process. The importance of rewards as a factor of determining attraction can be debated, as research has shown varying results. Cate et al (1982) used individual assessment to show that reward level was superior to all other factors in determining the satisfaction gained from a relationship. However, Hays et al (1985) found that people gain satisfaction from both giving and receiving rewards, and Lott et al (1994) found that cultural and gender differences also played a role, as women are more focused on giving than receiving in a relationship. ...read more.


This research is high in ecological validity as it has been carried out across different cultures, making it more reliable and easier to generalise to the population. However, as with the reward/need satisfaction theory, the similarity theory can be seen as reductionist, as it does not take into account other factors which determine attraction. For example, Yoshida (1972) found that factors such as self concept, physical condition and wealth, were as important as attitude similarity to the formation of relationships. Condon and Crano (1988) suggested that similarity is important to the formation of relationships as it lessens the chance of rejection by a potential partner, and also because having a partner similar to us validates our own attitudes and beliefs. This validation is seen as rewarding and the similarity theory could therefore be linked with the reward/need satisfaction theory, as similarity would become a rewarding stimuli. Both theories could be considered reductionist in their view, as they only take into account certain factors which influence attraction. However, research evidence is largely in favour of the two theories, showing that the factors they deal with are indeed important to the formation of successful romantic relationships. ...read more.

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