The Formation Of Romantic Relationships

1 January 2018

In 1970 Byrne and Clore came up with the idea of the reward/need satisfaction theory for the formation of romantic relationships. The believed that the formation of relationships was linked with the idea of classical and operant conditioning, with operant conditioning we are likely to repeat behaviours that leads to a desirable outcome and avoid behaviours that lead to undesirables ones, so we enter relationships because the presence of some individuals is directly associated with reinforcement, they make positive feelings in us, which makes them more attractive to us. For classical conditioning, we tend to prefer people who we associate with pleasant events, so for example if we meet someone somewhere where we are having a good time, then we will associate this person with this good time and find them more attractive in the long run. Byrne and Clore believed that the balance between positive and negative feelings in a relationship formation was crucial as relationships where the positive outweigh negative feelings were more likely to develop and succeed.

Griffit and Guay (1969) did an experiment where participants were evaluated on a creative task by the experimenter, and then asked to rate how much they liked the experimenter. The rating was highest when the experimenter had positively evaluated the participant’s performance on the task. The participants also had to say how much they liked the onlooker; the onlooker was rather more highly in the condition where the performance of participants had been positively evaluated by experimenter. This study provides support for both reinforcement ideas and association ideas. Although lab experiments do not necessarily show that the principles of reward/need theory simply apply to real life, the studies lack mundane realism. However some studies have been conducted on real life couples and have tended to support these claims (Caspi & Herbener 1990)

Another basic problem with the reward/need satisfaction theory is that it only explores receiving rewards, whereas Hays (1985) found that we also gain satisfaction from giving as well as receiving. Furthermore, reward/need satisfaction theory does not account for cultural and gender differences in the formation of relationships. Lott (1994) suggests that in many cultures women are more focused on the needs of other rather than rewarding reinforcement.

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