Discuss one theory of the formation of romantic relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

You should outline and evaluate just one theory such as reward/need satisfaction.

Reward/need satisfaction theory suggests that we become attracted to people who evoke positive feelings as they provide direct reinforcement through operant conditioningThese rewarding stimuli can include happiness or security.

According to the principles of operant conditioning, we are likely to repeat any behav that leads to a desirable outcome. This is because if the presence of an individual leads to this outcome, they will be perceived as more attractive.

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. These people do not need to evoke these positive stimuli, but they should be present when these stimuli occur.

These positive stimuli will be positively valued, and hence the people who are associated with these stimuli acquire positive value and we become attracted to them. For a relationship to commence & succeed, positive feelings should outweigh negative feelings.

Griffitt & Guay provided support for the idea that we like some individuals because they provide direct reinforcement. Participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter & were then asked how much they like the experimenter. The rating was highest when the participant was highly evaluated (i.e. rewarded) by the experimenter, showing that direct reinforcement can lead to attraction.

The same study also supported the role of indirect reinforcement (association with positive events). Participants of the study had to rate an onlooker as well as an experimenter. The onlooker was also more highly rated when the participant had been positively evaluated by the experimenter, as the onlooker was associated with this positive event.

Other research has found rewards to be crucial in determining relationship satisfaction. Cate et al. asked 337 participants to assess their current relationships in terms of reward level and satisfaction. Results showed reward level to be superior to all other factors in determining relationship satisfaction,
 supporting reward/need satisfaction theory.

A criticism of this theory is that it only considers the receiving of rewards. Studies have found that we also gain relationship satisfaction from giving rewards as well as receiving, something that this theory fails to take into account.

Lehr & Geher demonstrated the importance of reciprocal attraction in the formation of relationships after studying 56 students. Knowing that someone likes you is a reward in itself, so you are therefore more likely to like the other person too. This mutual attraction (which occurs due to operant conditioning) is important for a relationship to commence.

There is also physiological evidence to support the role of rewards in the formation of relationships. Aron et al. found that romantic attraction activates the brain’s reward circuits. This shows that attraction is linked to rewards, demonstrating the role of conditioning in the formation of relationships.

The reward/need satisfaction theory may be explained by our knowledge of evolution. The brain reward system associated with romantic attraction may have evolved to drive our ancestors to focus their courtship on specific individuals, thereby speeding up the mating process.

Critics have accused the reward/need satisfaction theory of cultural bias, as it does 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.

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