Psychological Theories of Romantic Relationships

Topics: Interpersonal relationship, Social exchange theory, Equity theory Pages: 7 (2420 words) Published: June 9, 2013
Discuss theories of relationship formation
The sociobiological explanation is an evolutionary theory which perceives relationship formation as a form of ‘survival efficiency’, with different focus between genders. Males are not certain of paternity and produce lots of sperm, so their best strategy to further their genes is to have multiple partners. The explanation sees males looking for signs of fertility such as smooth skin, and sexual faithfulness as they do not want to waste resources bringing up another male’s child (cuckoldry). On the other hand, females produce a small number of eggs, but are certain of maternity. Females seek to ensure that children are genetically strong and healthy by being selective in choosing partners and getting them to invest resources. The more a male invests, the more likely it is that he will not desert and will offer further resources to the female and her children. Males compete to be chosen and females select males on characteristics reflecting genetic fitness. Courtship serves as a period during which competition and selection occurs and also to get males to invest resources, increasing the chances of them not deserting and investing more resources in the future. Support comes from Davis who, in 1990, performed a content analysis of personal advertisements, finding that men look for health and attractiveness, while offering wealth and resources. Females look for resources and status, while offering beauty and youth, supporting the idea of evolutionary-based gender differences in relationship formation. Further support comes from Dunbar who, in 1995, analysed 900 personal advertisements from four US newspapers, finding that 42% of males sought youthfulness, while only 25% of females did. Of males, 44% sought attractiveness, while only 22% of females did, supporting the sociobiological idea that males and females have different reasons for forming relationships. Contradictory research comes from Harris who, in 2005, examined cultures dominated by different religious systems, finding that relationship behavioural patterns either contradicted sociobiological strategies of relationship formation or placed emphasis on cooperative restraint rather than survival through selfish propagation, as predicted by sociobiological theory. This indicates that many human societies have developed relationship systems going against sociobiological predictions. The sociobiological explanation presumes heterosexuality, that children are wanted and that all relationships are sexual; it is therefore reductionist, seeing relationships as a means of reproduction and therefore disregarding other reasons for being in romantic relationships such as companionship. The explanation supports gender stereotypes of housebound women and sexually promiscuous males and therefore the explanation does not suit the modern environment as many women now have resources of their own and do not need to rely on the resources of men. Finally the explanation is deterministic, disregarding the role of free will in relationship formation. Another theory of formation of romantic relationships is the reinforcement and needs satisfaction explanation. This is a behaviourist explanation, perceiving conditioning as an explanation for relationship formation. According to operant conditioning, people may directly reward us by meeting our psychological needs for friendship, love and sex. Their provision of such needs is reinforcing, and therefore we will like them more and spend more time with them, which ultimately increases the chances of relationship formation. People may also indirectly reward us, according to classical conditioning, because they become associated with pleasant circumstances, which makes us more likely to form a relationship. If we associate people with being in a good mood, or helping to remove a negative mood, we will find them attractive and will like them increasingly, furthering the chances of...
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