There are many reasons as to why people fall in love, and why romantic relationships may form between two people. However, there is no definite factor that makes an individual fall in love. Today, reasons as to why we fall in love still remain a mystery, but psychologists have tried explaining this through different theories. They used two main theories to try to explain this question. The first being Relationship Formation Theories and the second is Economic Theories. The Socio-biological Theory is based on the assumption that behaviours in other individuals that promote reproduction are naturally selected.
Evolutionary theorists believe that individuals are attracted to the physical qualities of another individual that give signs of youth and good health, because it is believed that the main biological aim of romantic relationships is to pass our genes onto the next generation. Therefore, individuals are more likely to select a mate with stronger genes in order to ensure that our genes get the best chance of survival when passed onto the offspring. However, what are considered the ‘fittest’ physical qualities in an individual vary between both genders.
Men are more likely to choose a younger woman with large breasts and wide hips, as these features indicate that she is fit for reproduction. Whereas, women look for men with resources for the best upbringing of their offspring. A number of studies support this theory, such as, Fellner and Marshall (1981), who looked at the willingness of 39 people to donate a kidney to a relative. Results showed that 86% of these were willing to donate their kidney for their children, 67% of individuals would do it for their parents and 50% would donate their kidney for their siblings.
Therefore, these findings support the Socio-biological Theory as individuals are more concerned on protecting the genes and health of their offspring. However, demand characteristics may have made the findings of this study biased, as individuals may have given certain answers due to social pressures. Another study supporting this theory is the survey carried out by Buss (1989). He evaluated the results of over 10,000 questionnaires, where participants were asked to rate factors such as age and intelligence in a romantic partner, according to how essential they considered these factors.
It was found that men valued physical attractiveness more in women, whereas women gave more importance to factors such as a good income and a high occupational status. It was also found that in every culture, both men and women preferred the man to be the older individual in the couple. However, the Socio-biological Theory has a few flaws, for example, features such as wide hips and large breasts are not indispensible for successful offspring upbringing. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that attraction to these features has arisen from the process of natural selection.
Also, none of the studies above suggest a biological influence. Another theory that has tried explaining why people fall in love and how romantic relationships form, is the Matching Hypothesis, by Murstein (1962). This theory suggests that individuals would prefer to have the most attractive mate, but instead, they tend to form relationships with individuals of similar levels of attractiveness to themselves. Individuals establish their own level of attractiveness and look for a mate who matches this attractiveness.
It is argued that this is because of a fear of rejection, but Brown (1986) argued that individuals want to achieve a match with qualities that reflect what they have to offer, in terms of aesthetics, personality and intelligence, making the relationship equal and rational. A study was conducted by Walster (1966) to test this theory. The study involved the experimenter advertising a dance club for students. When the students went to sign up for the dance club, four judges assessed their physical attractiveness as a measure of social desirability independently.
The students were then asked to fill in a questionnaire in order for the experimenter to collect some data about the students. This was for checking their similarities with their dance partners, which were assigned randomly. Throughout the dance, they were asked to fill in another questionnaire about their partners. Results showed that the more attractive students were liked more by their partners, in comparison to the less attractive students. This study does not fully support the Matching Hypothesis but supports Murstein’s assumption that an individual’s ideal partner would be the most attractive person available.
However, Walster and Walster (1969) later repeated this study. Though, this time the students met their partners in advance, thus, they had extra time to think about the qualities they were looking for in a mate. This time they gained different results, the students showed more liking for individuals with the same level of physical attractiveness as themselves. This study supports the Matching Hypothesis that individuals choose mates that match their own level of attractiveness.
These studies lack mundane realism as the situation is artificial, as participants can be paired with an individual more attractive than themselves without fearing rejection. It therefore, does not reflect the way relationships are formed and lacks external validity. Also, attraction may not be a main concern for some individuals, especially when the relationship is not romantic. Attraction is usually important only in the initial stages of a romantic relationship. Our judgment of an individual’s attractiveness varies according to how much we see them.
For example, the more we see an individual, the more familiar and attractive they become to us. Therefore, proximity and familiarity are more important factors of attraction, compared to similarity. The Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory was proposed by Byrne and Clore (1970) and it is a theory of relationship formation. It can be explained through the behaviourist assumptions of operant and classical conditioning. Operant conditioning explanations assume that attraction results from us finding an individual’s company rewarding, which then would result in us looking for further contact with that individual, and thus, attraction.
Classical conditioning theorists would assume that if we meet an individual when we are in a positive mood, they are associated with positive feelings, therefore, we want to see them again, showing how classical conditioning occurs. There is a lot of research in support of this theory, including the study conducted by Griffit and Guay (1969). They had two conditions in their experiment. Firstly, to see whether we like other individuals because they provide direct reinforcement (operant conditioning), and secondly, to see whether we like other individuals due to the fact that they are associated with a pleasant event (classical conditioning).
The participants were either evaluated positively or negatively by an experimenter based on a creative task. The participants were then asked to rate an onlooker and the experimenter after. When participants were positively evaluated, they evaluated the experimenter and onlooker highly, but rated then both lower when they had been negatively evaluated. This study supports the theory because it shows that we like individuals if they provide direct reinforcement through operant conditioning, and we like individuals who are associated with pleasant events through classical conditioning.
However, it ignores gender differences, so it is beta-biased as shown in a study carried out by Hay (1999) where results revealed that women prefer giving as it is more rewarding. This study is also androcentric, as it does not notice or acknowledge these differences between men and women. In addition, it lacks ecological validity because it is carried out in a laboratory, and therefore, not true to real life. Due to this it also lacks mundane realism because it cannot reflect a real relationship as they are more complex than made out. Further support of the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory is a study carried out by Aron (2005).
He found that participants who scored highly on a self-report questionnaire of romantic love, showed strong activity in particular areas of the brain that are associated with reward and are rich in dopamine. This occurred mainly in the early stages of romantic relationships. Cate (1982) provided further support for the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory. He asked 337 individuals to measure the reward level and satisfaction of the relationship they were currently in. Findings of this study showed that reward level was greater than any other factors when establishing an individual’s satisfaction in a relationship.
Moving onto the economic theories, the Social exchange theory by Thibaut and Kelley (1959) gives a more credible account of interpersonal attraction. They assume that every person tries to maximise the rewards they achieve from a romantic relationship, and to minimise the costs (such as, time and effort). They also assumed that individuals expect to be rewarded as much as they reward the other individual, when a relationship is to continue. Thibaut and Kelley argued that long-term relationships go through four stages. Firstly, sampling – exploring the costs and rewards.
Secondly, bargaining – agreeing costs and rewards. Thirdly, commitment – accepting the costs and exchanging the rewards. Finally, institutionalisation – establishing the norms and expectations in the relationship. The Social Exchange Theory also embraces further assumptions, for example, the satisfaction of rewards and costs in a relationship will depend on what the individuals expect, based on previous relationships. This means that individuals have a Comparison Level (CL), which represents the outcomes that they think they deserve in a relationship, based on past experiences.
For example, if someone previously had a poor relationship, that individual might not expect much in following relationships, and vice versa. In support of this theory, Rusbult (1983) found that the balance of exchanging costs and rewards are overlooked during the early period of a romantic relationship, and it is only afterwards that costs become connected to the satisfaction of the individual within the relationship. However, the Social Exchange Theory assumes that individuals are selfish and self-centred in any types of relationships.
The Social Exchange Theory, therefore, has been extended by Hatfield (1979) to include an emphasis on equality, and therefore create the Equity Theory. This theory assumes that individuals are most happy when they are in romantic relationships where the costs and rewards, or the giving and the taking, are roughly equal. However, if one individual is not getting enough out of the relationship, they will feel unsatisfied, and the other person will feel guilty about the imbalance in the relationship. The main assumptions of this theory were expressed by Walster (1978).
He claimed that individuals try to minimise the costs they put into a relationship, maximise the rewards they receive and negotiate to make it fair. If the individuals find the relationship unfair or unequal, it makes the relationship distressing, especially for the disadvantaged individual, who will attempt to make the relationship equal. Hatfield (1979) conducted an experiment to test this theory. He asked newlyweds to show to which extent they believed that they were receiving more in the relationship, or less compared to what they were contributing. They were also asked to indicate how happy and angry they were.
The individual less advantaged in the relationship was overall less satisfied with their marriage, whereas the advantaged individual felt guilty. The highest satisfaction came from the individuals that believed their marriage to be equal. This study was repeated Buunk (1991) who found the same results. The Equity Theory has been evaluated more credible than the Social Exchange Theory because it considers the rewards and costs of the other individual in the relationship, in addition to those of the individual itself. In conclusion, why people fall in love is still a question to be answered.
However, it is clear that romantic relationships form mainly on the basis of passing down genes to the offspring and younger generations. Individuals pick their partners based on what they have to offer to the relationship and their offspring, for example, resources such as money, strong and healthy genes and time and effort. This may also explain why we choose someone similar to us.
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