Describe and evaluate 2 or more theories of the formation of romantic
A relationship is either formed through genetic reasons in the evolutionary response, or
through the direct reinforcement of others.
The socio biological explanation explains the formation of relationships through genetics,
and that is an evolutionary response to form a relationship for our own survival e.g. Darwin’s
idea of survival of the fittest and natural selection etc. Male’s best strategy to provide
maximum gene spreading is to have multiple partners. This theory takes the approach that
men are always looking for signs to spread their genes, for example men in women look for
an hour glass figure and signs of fertility like smooth skin. Men also looks for sexual
faithfulness, showing the women wouldn’t want to bring up another man’s child (cuckoldry).
Whereas, females look for kindness; indicating willingness to share resources. The more
then man invests the more likely he will offer resources to the woman and children. Davis
(90) did a content analysis personal ad and found that men look for health and attractiveness
where as women look for status, wealth and resources. However, this could have used a
biased method as it is qualitative data. Courtship serves as a period during which
competition and selection occur and to get males to invest resources-increasing chances of
them not deserting and investing more.
A study that supports the socio biological explanation is a study done by Packer in 1983, he
reports that male lions, on defeating dominant males, kill existing cubs and the lionesses
then become sexually receptive. This behaviour is adaptive, eliminating competition for the
cubs and allowing faster genetic reproduction which supports the idea that males seek to
spread their own genes and get rid of competition. However due to this study being done on
lions, it means we cannot extrapolate the data and apply it to humans as we cannot assume
our cognitive and behavioural systems are the same as lions or any other animals for that
However a contradicting study was done by Harris in 2005, he did a cultural study on
different cultures dominated by different religious systems. He found that relationship
behavioural patterns either contradicted socio biological strategies of relationship formation
or placed emphasis on cooperative restraint rather than survival through selfish propagation,
as predicted by the theory. This indicates that many societies have developed systems going
against the socio biological predictions.
It can be argued that the theory is very deterministic, as the relationships are seen as having
a lack of free will-that is determined by factors beyond personal control, which is not true. As
well as deterministic, the theory is also reductionist, seeing relationships as merely a means
of reproduction, which therefore disregards any other reasons for wanting to be in a romantic
relationship e.g. companionship.
Although the theory is relevant to the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness), the
model doesn’t suit modern environment. Many women how have resources of their own and
do not need to rely on the resources of men (this is an outdated view). This casts doubt on
the suitability of this explanation in modern days as its applicability, has over the years
The second theory is the reward/need satisfaction explanation. This states that for a
relationship to form and progress from just attraction, people need to be motivated to want to
continue getting to know each other. Long term relationships formed if it meets needs of the
partners and provides rewards. Biological based social needs, e.g. sexual and emotional
need, giving and receiving support. Mills in 1979 came up with the idea of the ‘tit for tat’
basic- an exchanging relationship. As the relationship progresses, rewards may become less
reciprocal. The move from giving rewards on an exchange to a communal basis may be an
important aspect of forming a close relationship.
The theory is supported by the study of May and Hamilton in 1980, they asked female to rate
photos of males, while either pleasant or unpleasant music was played. Those with the
pleasant music rated males as more attractive which support the theory.
A weakness of the theory is that it is seen to have a fundamentally selfish view of people
only trying to satisfy their own needs. Many people have genuine concerns for the needs of
Lott in 1994 found that the reward/need satisfaction theory does not account for cultural and
gender differences in the formation of relationships. Lott suggested that in many cultures
women are more focused on the needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement. This
suggests that this theory is not a universal explanation of relationship formation, therefore
The theory proposes that we like some individuals because they provide direct
reinforcement. Griffitt and Guay in 1969 supported this claim. Participants were evaluated on
a creative task by an experimenter and then asked to rate how much they liked the
experimenter. This rating was highest when the experimenter had positively evaluated (e.g.
reward) the participant’s performance on the task.