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Describe and Evaluate two theories of the formation of romantic relationships Essay

In 1970 Byrne and Clore introduced the reward/ need satisfaction theory for the formation of relationships. They suggested that we are attracted to individuals whose presence is rewarding for us, and that naturally we find stimuli rewarding if it meets an unmet need; the more rewards someone provides for us, the more we should be attracted to them. They believed that the formation if relationships was linked with the idea of classical and operant conditioning, with operant conditioning we are likely to repeat behaviours that leads to a desirable outcome and avoid behaviours that lead to undesirable ones, so we enter the relationships because the presence of some individuals is directly associated with reinforcement, making us have positive feelings, which makes them more attractive to us.

For classical conditioning, we tend to prefer people who we associate with pleasant event, so for example if we meet someone somewhere where we are having a good time, then we will associate this person with this good time and find them more attractive in the long run. Byrne and Clore believed that the balance between positive and negative feelings in a relationship was crucial as relationships where the positive outweigh negative feelings were more likely to develop and succeed.

Griffitt and Guay (1969), participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter and then asked to rate how much they liked the experimenter. The rating was highest when the experimenter had positively evaluated the participant’s performance on the task. This study supports the claim that we like people who are associated with pleasant events. This provides strong support that similarity is important in attraction, but also highlights reciprocal liking also is factor in the formation of relationships; however this may not be the only factor influencing this.

The experiment was only of an imaginary description, the participant is unlikely to truly demonstrate how they feel towards the stranger. The experiment doesn’t demonstrate interaction of people, but rather just presents a statement about them, which reduces how far conclusions can be drawn. Although similarity may be a factor, how people socially interact is also important to how a person
perceives another.

In a laboratory experiment, Lehr and Gehr (2006) studied participants of both sexes to test the importance of reciprocal liking. Knowing that someone likes you is particularly rewarding and so is more likely to end up in mutual liking. Participants were given a description of a stranger, with varying degrees of similarity of the strangers attitude to the participants. In each description was a statement that the stranger either liked or did not like the participant. Researchers found significant effects for attitude similarity and liking. However this study doesn’t have ecological validity from where it was done in a lab setting and didn’t reflect real life situation or conditions

However Cate et al (1982) asked 337 individuals to assess their current relationships in terms of reward level and satisfaction. Results showed that reward level was superior to all other factors in determining relationship satisfaction, however this theory only explores the receiving of rewards, the results may not be completely accurate though as some people may have picked the socially desirable answers. These studies all ignore natures influence on attraction and that it is to some extent an evolutionary need to have a partner that meets physical requirements.

This model may be very culturally bound as all the studies done were in the western world’s individualistic cultures. In other cultures one partner may not expect rewards and may be entirely giving, or arranges marriages will also go against this theory as the long term is made to happen. For example, Lott (1994) suggests that in many cultures women are more focused on the needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement. This suggests that this theory is not a universal explanation of relationship formation and therefore culturally biased.

However, this theory is supported by another theory on how relationships are formed Byrne, Clore and Smeatons Similarity Theory (1986) states that it is important that people are similar in order to be able to form a relationship. They theorise that there are two stages to deciding who to seek relations with first we sort out the people most dissimilar to us and
secondly then seek out those who are most similar. Caspi and Herbener found that in married couples, those who were the happiest were those with the most similar personality traits.


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