Outline and evaluate one theory of the formation of romantic relationships. (4 marks + 8 marks)

Discuss only one theory, i.e. reward/need satisfaction theory or the idea that similarities cause attraction. You should only focus on the formation of romantic relationships: information on maintenance or breakdown will be irrelevant.

Reward/need satisfaction theory suggests that we become attracted to people who evoke positive feelings as they provide direct reinforcement through operant conditioning. If the presence of an individual leads to a positive outcome, they will be perceived as more attractive. We are thus more likely to repeat these behaviours towards that individual, leading to the formation of a relationship.

We also become attracted to people who are associated with positive events through classical conditioning. People who are associated with these positive events acquire positive value, increasing our attraction 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.

There is also physiological evidence to support the role of rewards in the formation of relationships. Aronet 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.

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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