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Theories of the Formation of Romantic Relationships

The sociobiological explanation is an evolutionary theory perceiving relationship formation as a form of ‘survival efficiency’, with a difference between genders. Davis (1990) performed a content analysis of personal advertisements, finding that men look for health and attractiveness, while offering wealth and resources. Females look for resources and status, while offering beauty and youth, supporting the idea of evolutionary-based gender differences in relationship formation. However, although relevant to the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness), the model doesn’t suit modern environment. Many women now have resources of their own and do not need to rely on the resources of men.

This casts doubts on the suitability of this explanation in modern days as its applicability, has over the years gradually decreased. The sociobiological explanation is reductionist, seeing relationship as a means of reproduction, therefore disregarding other reasons for being in romantic relationships, like companionship. It can be argued that theories of relationship formation are deterministic, as relationships are seen as having a lack of free will – that is, determined by factors beyond personal control.

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For example, the rewards and needs satisfaction theory sees relationship formation an unconscious process based on learned associations. The reinforcement and needs satisfaction explanation is a behaviourist explanation, perceiving conditioning as an explanation for relationship formation. People may directly reward us (operant conditioning) by meeting our psychological needs for friendship, love and sex. Their provision of such needs is reinforcing, and therefore we like them more and want to be around them.

As a result we are more likely to form a relationship.

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Also, people may be indirectly rewarded (classical conditioning), where they become associated with the pleasant circumstances and so again the likeliness for forming a relationship increases. Argyle (1994) outlined several motivational systems underpinning social behaviour, and explained how forming relationships satisfies social needs on several levels. * Biological needs, like collective eating.

* Dependency, being comforted
* Affiliation, a sense of belonging
* Dominance, making decisions for others
* Sex, flirting
* Aggression, letting off steam
* Self-esteem, being respected by others

Many non-western cultures feature relationships without regard for receiving rewards or prioritising selfish needs. Therefore the rewards –needs satisfaction theory cannot account for cultural differences and thus can be seen as culturally biased. The rewards –needs satisfaction theory of relationship formation cannot account for gender differences. Women often focus more on the needs of others, and males and females tend to find different things rewarding, suggesting that the explanation is gender biased.

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Theories of the Formation of Romantic Relationships. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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