The first of the two theories was put forward by Byrne and Clore in 1970. They named this theory about the formation of relationships the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory. Their theory suggests that we are attracted to people we find satisfying to be with. This can be demonstrated by asking people why they are attracted to their partner, the usual answers are: caring, supportive, affectionate or just good fun. We, as humans, are motivated to seek stimuli that are rewarding to us. We are equally motivated to avoid unpleasant or punishing stimuli.
The things that we find rewarding are unique to each individual and often reflect our unmet needs. Mutual attracting happens when the needs of each partner are fulfilled by the other. If a rewarding stimulus creates a happy feeling and a punishing stimulus evokes an unhappy feeling then it follows that people who make us happy are rewarding stimuli and vice versa. The learning method of operant conditioning means that we are likely to repeat behaviour that provides us with or leads to a desirable outcome.
Byrne and Clore use this in their theory to suggest why we enter into relationships. The presence of some individuals is directly linked to a reinforcement of some sort, the person makes us feel good for example, and they are therefore more attractive to us. It is also possible for a person to be more attractive to us because we associate them with a pleasing experience. This follows the idea of classical conditioning in which we learn through association. For example, if you meet someone for the first time when you are happy then there is more of a chance that you will like them.
Relationships can work in this way too; however the balance of positive and negative feelings is vital. If the positive out way the negative then the relationship is likely to develop and succeed. If the negative out way the positive then the chances are any relationship will fail. The second theory on the formation of relationships was brought forward by Byrne, Clore and Smeaton in 1986. This time the focus of their theory was on similarity being key. The basis of this view is that similarity promotes liking. This model focuses on the similarity of personality and attitudes.
It suggests that there are two stages to the formation of relationships, the first being to sort potential partners by dissimilarity – avoiding those who appear too different, and the second stage – of those who are left who is most similar. Research has shown that people are more likely to be attracted to another with similar personality traits that someone with opposite or complementary traits. eg. two serious people that are hardworking are more likely to be attracted than a serious, hardworking person and a party animal who avoids responsibility.
This is not always the case but it is the norm and the rule especially when referring to long-term relationships. If people disagree on something important ‘attitude alignment’ often occurs, according to research. This means that partners adjust their attitudes to become more similar. One criticism of the reward/need satisfaction theory is that cultural differences have not been taken into account as there are some cultures in which the male chooses his partner and the woman has no say in which case the relationship will last but may not be happy.
Another example of this is in cultures where there are arranged marriages. It could also be argued that this theory fails to mention that the act of providing a positive stimulus to a partner can be just as rewarding to the giver as the receiver meaning that rather than having a balance in giving and receiving positive stimuli, it could be more appropriate to replace the word balance with equilibrium.
So therefore there should be equilibrium in giving and receiving positive stimuli. In both theories the psychologists appreciate that their views, although the norms, are not always reality. Most of the experiments conducted around each of the theories are laboratory experiments meaning that they are highly controlled and manipulated by the researcher meaning that the results found lack mundane realism. This means that the results can not be generalised to the population.