• Describe and Evaluate two theories of the formation of romantic relationships
Kerckoff and Davis (1962) presented a form of relationship formation theory known as the filter model. They believed that we have three filters that are important at different times before we can enter a relationship. We start with a field of availables , those who are free for relationships and gradually narrow them down using different stages to a field of desirables, and those who we would consider as potential partners. The first filter is the social and demographic variables where we tend to pick people with similar educational and economic background to us. The second filter is the similarity of attitudes and values, where people with different values, attitudes and interests to us are filtered out. The third stage is the complementarity of emotional needs where we decide how well between the two people they fit together as a couple.
Kerckoff and Davis (1962) then tested their model in a longitudinal study using student couples that had been together for more or less than 18 months. They completed several questionnaires over 7 months which reported on attitude similarity and personality traits with their partner. They found that attitude similarity was the most important factor up to about 18 months into a relationship, after this time psychological compatibility and the ability to meet each other’s needs became important, supporting the idea of the filter model.
However, thins study is dated, conducted 1962- This means that there is low historical validity as the research was conducted at a more conservative time when western ideals based on love were dominant and an imposed etic was also present- Ignores important differences or variations in relationships, for example between cultures or in same-sex couples.
The filter model is a useful way to think about factors that are influential in relationship development and when they might come into play. It also emphasises the importance of demographic factors and similarity of attitudes and values as filters in development of relationships, evidence shows this continues in relationship survival.
However, Gruber-Baldini et al (1995) found that couples who were similar were more likely to be together 20 years later, suggesting that similarity continues to be important. That strengthen the validity of the experiment.
Furthermore, Kerchkoff used a student population in his study- therefore this research may not be generalised to older or different members of society and adult relationship formation.
In addition, the Filter theory fails to take into account individual differences. In real life, people give importance to different factors. The filter model is a 3-stage theory ,which makes it quite artificial and fails to capture the dynamics and fluency of relationships. In real life, relationships change and develop, some flow faster/slower and these factors cannot fit neatly into stages. Therefore the filter theory can’t be applied to all relationships and is an incomplete explanation for relationship formation.
Moreover, the filter model is reductionist as it simplifies complex relationships down to three stages. There is more to relationships than the theory states as the filter theory fails to explain love and other factors that may lead to the formation of relationships.
Also the social demographic filter may be less important today as we have greater mobility and the ability to make contact and stay in touch electronically with people who live further away. Social networking and texting allow us to get to know and stay in touch with people from more diverse social backgrounds.
Byrne and Clore (1970) came up with another 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.
Griffitt and Guay (1969) provides support for the importance of rewards (direct reinforcement). Participants were judged on a creative task by an evaluator and then asked to rate the evaluator and those who had received positive ratings gave positive ratings. That corroborate the reward/need explanation of romantic formation.
Also, Cate et al. (1982) asked 337 individuals to assess their current relationships in terms of reward level and satisfaction. Found that reward level was the most important factor in determining relationship satisfaction that increase the validity of the need and reward explanation.
However, Hays (1985), suggested that a problem with the reward/need satisfaction theory is that it only concentrates on receiving rewards, when it has been shown that some people gain satisfaction from giving as well as receiving.
Therefore the other factors might not counted in this theory that weaken the validity of this theory.
Furthermore, Aron et al (2005)-found that participants who measured high on a self-report questionnaire of romantic love also showed strong activity in particular areas of brain, including the ventral tegmental area. Intense romantic love associated with high levels of activity in subcortical reward regions of brain, rich in dopamine. Brain reward system associated with romantic love most probably evolved to drive our ancestors to focus their courtship energy on specific individuals. Love at first sight is a basic mammalian response that our ancestors inherited to speed up the mating process. So , this might show that the explanation may not included other external factors and real life situation ,which weaken the validity and reliability of the explanation.
Moreover, the reward and 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 needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement. Suggesting that this theory is not a universal explanation of formation of relationships and therefore culturally biased. Therefore this theory may have cultural bias.
However, most studies carried out in laboratory, therefore do not necessarily show that the principles of need satisfaction and similarity apply to real life- lacks mundane realism.
In evaluation, Both theories are of a dated nature, and developed in 1960’s in USA and they reflect the social values of that society and time. These two explanations have a different focus. Reward theory focuses on why we have relationships and the motivations for engaging in them. Whilst, Filter theory focuses on how relationships develop over time. However, both agree that complementary needs are important in the survival of a relationship in the long term.