Outline and Evaluate Two Theories of Relationship Formation (24 marks) Byrne and Clores Reward/Need Satisfaction theory states that we will become attracted to a partner based on how that person makes us feel. Mutual attraction will occur when each partner meets the others’ needs. Stimuli in our lives can usually be seen as rewarding or punishing, rewarding stimuli making us happy and punishing stimuli having the opposite effect. We can also be attracted to someone through association of events. We are more likely to like someone if we were in a good mood when we met them, for example.
Through the process of Classical Conditioning, a neutral stimulus can become positively valued due to its’ association with a pleasant event. Byrne and Clore thought that a balance of feelings was vitally important in the formation of a relationship, with relationships having a higher chance of developing where positive feelings outweigh the negatives. Using Social Learning Theory, we can understand that relationships can be formed through the process of Operant Conditioning, because we will want to stay with a person who gives us rewarding stimuli.
This is further supported through the physiological research of Aron et al (2005) who suggested that there is increased activity in areas of the brain rich in the neurotransmitter Dopamine, which is associated with feelings of happiness. However, this theory does not account for cultural or gender differences in the formation of relationships. Lott (1994) suggested that predominantly women seek more for the needs of other people over acquiring reinforcement. Another weakness of this theory is that it lacks mundane realism.
The majority of the research carried out for the theory was conducted in laboratories; they cannot necessarily be applied to real-life principles of need, satisfaction or similarity. Another limitation of the theory is that it only explores the basic concept of receiving rewards, but Hays (1985) suggested that we not only gain satisfaction from receiving rewards but from giving rewards to others also. Byrne, Clore and Smeaton (1986) theorised that similarity is the main factor in forming a relationship.
We will sort partners for dissimilarities, and then seek someone who is similar to ourselves. This model focusses on the similarities of peoples’ personality and attitudes. Caspi and Herbener (1990) found that within married couples, those with more similar personality traits were more likely to be happy than those who were dissimilar in personality. Not only does this support the theory, but because the study was conducted on real-life couples, it has mundane realism which we can generalise to others.
It is also important to share similar attitudes with a partner, although many couples can modify their attitudes to many things in order to align themselves better with their partner. This theory is in support of the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory as those with similar beliefs can be viewed as validation and therefore satisfying. Research by Rosenbaum (1986) known as the Dissimilarity-Repulsion Hypothesis has been tested by a number of Psychologists in countries such as the USA and Singapore.
From this data we can see generalisation to other cultures, however this research states that partners will be attracted to each other first due to similarities, but those who find out more dissimilarities will become less attracted to each other. A limitation of the theory is that it is a reductionist theory, only looking at two specific factors within relationship formation, and doesn’t look at factors such as finance or physical attraction. Speakman et al (2007) studies show that people are attracted to those with similar levels of body fat.