Formation of romantic relationships can be explained in two theories. The theories include the reward, satisfaction theory which focusses on classical and operant conditioning. And another explanation is shown through the filter model which argues that relationships develop through three different filters.
The filter model was devised Kerchoff and Davis and suggests relationships from in three different filters. The first filter involves social, demographic variables. This filters out all the people that are from different backgrounds and people who live in other places.
It’s the people who you mix with who act as the field of available as they tend to be similar as you live in the same area or work or go to college together. With the small group of available a potential partner is chosen. Once two people have started to go out together the next filter is similarity of attitudes and values. If the couple share ideas and beliefs, communication should be easier and the relationship may progress.
If they appear very different and think differently it is likely the relationship will not progress and they will be filtered out. Once the couple have become established in a relationship which is fairly long term it’s the last filter that comes into play. This is complementarity of emotional needs. If the couple fit together and meet each other they will stay in a relationship; if not, they will be filtered out.
Supporting research was conducted by Sprecher. They found that couples who were in similar in social demographic background were more likely to develop a long term relationship which supports the importance of the first filter.
However, we have greater mobility and the ability to make contact and stay in touch electronically with people who live further away. Social networking and texting allows us to get to know and stay in touch with people from more diverse social backgrounds. Therefore, the social demographic filter may be less important today.
Nevertheless, Kerchoff and Davis completed further research to support their filter model. They found that student couples who shared similar attitudes were likely to stay together for up to 18 months but after 18 months similarity became less important and complementary needs became more important.
But, Gruber-Baldini et al found that couples who were similar were more likely to still be together 20 years later, suggesting that similarity continues to be important, going against the filter model.
Another weakness is that the filter model is a stage model and divides relationships into stages which makes it reductionist. Relationships change and develop and they do not fit neatly into the stages. Therefore, there must be other factors or explanations that account to the formation of relationships.
Another explanation to the formation of relationships is through the reward, need satisfaction model. This theory was suggested by Byrne and Clore who stressed the reward and satisfaction of needs we receive when in relationships. The formation is based around the behaviourist principles of operant and classical conditioning. According to operant condition if behaviour is followed by a desirable consequence, it becomes more frequent. For instance, if you form a relationship with someone who agrees with your opinion, that provides many rewards and you are likely to form that relationship. We also become attracted to people who are associated with positive events through classical conditioning. These positive events can include compliments or laughter, or anything else that can cause a positive mood. If the person is present when the stimuli occurs then they will be associated with the happy feeling
. For instance, if you like parties and you met someone at that party, you would associate the person to the party and are likely to form a relationship because they are paired with aa happy feeling.
Supporting research was conducted by Aron. They used MRI scans to investigate the brain activation of individuals who reported being intensely in love. They asked participants to rate how much in love they were. They found that dopamine rich areas of the brain associated with reward were activated to a greater extent when individuals were shown a photo of the person they were in love with in contrast of someone they just liked. This supports the claim that we form relationships with those people who provide us with rewards; in this case, being in love increases dopamine activity in the brain, which is rewarding.
Further supporting research was conducted by May and Hamilton. They asked female participants to evaluate photographs of men while listening to rock music that stimulated a positive mood, modern music which stimulated a negative mood or no music. They found that participants gave more positive evaluations if they were listening to rock music rather than modern or no music. This supports the effect of classical conditioning. However, it should be noted that just because you feel attracted to someone does not mean you will form a relationship with them.
However, there are many weaknesses towards this theory. The theory overemphasises on rewards. Other relationships like child and parent relationships are not formed with rewards. This suggests therefore, that rewards may not be important at forming the relationship but are more long term.
In addition, not all rewards prompt a relationship. One form of a reward is argued by evolutionary psychologist to be sexual access. If someone has sexual intercourse then it expected to be rewarding thus form a relationship. However, one night stands happen without resulting in a relationship showing that rewards don’t always form relationships, against the theory.
Overall, both theories can be accused of being culturally biased and ethnocentric. They do not account for cultural differences in the formation of relationships. Many cultures, for example, are more focused on the needs of others rather than receiving rewards. Also in many cultures it is common for arrange marriages to occur. Arrange marriages do not go throughout the steps in the filter model and do not focus on rewards and needs. Therefore, these models do not explain relationship formation as a whole. Also, both theories are deterministic. They suggest that all relationships must be formed either with rewards and needs or through the filter model. Therefore it fails to consider the role of free will and the complexity of human behaviour in that we have the ability to form romantic relationships through other stages and factors. This further reduces the external reliability of the theory as it cannot be sure that it explains the formation of every romantic relationship.
In conclusion, the filter model and the reward need theory provides a good explanation to relationship formation. But, with many criticism, they cannot explain the whole of relationships and there must be other factors that contribute to the formation of some relationships.
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