Based on research evidence, many theories have been identified as to the reason why relationships form. The sociobiological theory, reinforcement and need satisfaction theory, and the field theory all offer explanations concerning the formation of interpersonal relationships. The sociobiological theory is the idea that the behaviours we observe are adaptive, and that adaptive behavior is one that promotes the survival of the individual and results in successful reproduction.
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It is believed that humans form relationships in order to have healthy children with the ” best” genes, therefore the theory can be seen as viewing relationships from an evolutionary point of view. The idea of kin selection, a notion that survival of an individual’s genes is ensured by helping the survival of close relatives This theory can explain why generally healthier partners are sought. Evidence for this theory include Fellner and Marshall (1981) in which they found that that 86% of people were willing to be a kidney donor for their children, 67% would donate for their parents, and 50% would be a donor for their siblings.
This theory can explain why people are inclined to be close to their family, however there are many negative criticisms. The sociobiological theory can not explain other relationships such as non-sexual relationships and homosexual relationships, where there is no intention to have children biologically. Sternberg and Grajek (1984) found that women love their best friend as much as their lover, and like their best friend more, an interpersonal relationship that the theory can not support.
Fellner et al. may have evidence that support the theory, however the fact that 86% of parents were willing to donate their kidney to their children, and not 100%, shows that not all parents are only wanting their genes to survive. The question that also arises is why do couples stay together, even after their children have grown older and are not reliant on them to survive. Technological advances have also ensured that women do not even need any physical contact with a man to have offspring.
The reinforcement and need satisfaction theory states that we enjoy the company of people who reward us, and dislike the people who punish us. Rewards can involve approval, smiling, status, money, sex and help. Foa and Foa (1975) say that these rewards satisfy our own social needs, for example being comforted satisfies our dependency needs and approval satisfies our self-esteem. Byrne (1971) argues that classical conditioning plays an important role of reinforcement.
He found that someone whose picture was present was more liked when the participants listened to someone expressing similar attitudes to their own. Rabbie and Horowitz (1960) found that strangers expressed greater liking for each other when they were successful in a game-like task, rather than if they were unsuccessful. However, there are discrepancies with the reinforcement and need satisfaction theory. Duck (1992) criticised Rabbie et al. as he argues that the study was based on a rather artificial ” bogus stranger” method.
There is no actual stranger but only one that is imagined and this may not elicit realistic responses. Reinforcement can not explain the strength of a parent/child relationship, as it is based on the idea that high rewarding is necessary, where as in some situations the child displays loyalty and love to their parent, even if they are being violently abused, for example. Also, a mother who is caring for her baby does not necessarily have her needs satisfied by her baby, but still cares and loves for them.
This theory does not justify why people with high self esteem, and are generally content with their lives, form new relationships. Lastly, the reinforcement theory portrays humankind to be completely selfish, and only concerned with fulfilling their needs. However, people tend to care greatly for other people, and want what is best for others. In support of the filter theory, Davis et al (1962) argued that relationships go through a series of filters, each of which is essential for the relationship to begin or to continue.
The first filter is the proximity filter, and then we tend to go through the similarity filter, in which we try to find someone of the same race or ethnic group. Davis et al found that the third filter, psychological factors, was important in the maintenance of a relationship, as people tended to have the same views and beliefs. Complementarity of emotional needs is the fourth filter. It was found that the ability to satisfy one another’s emotional needs was the best predictor of the survival of a relationship. However, there are disadvantages to this theory.
Although the filter theory enables us to understand the influence of the formation and maintenance of relationships, it focuses on romantic relationships, and tells us very little about friendships. Internet relationships, which involve no physical closeness can not be explained by the filter theory, as it states that proximity is of vital importance. It does not also account for explain spontaneity, physical attraction, and the fact that some people do not have a relationships in the order of the specified filters.
For example, some people start long distance relationships, in which high complementary emotional needs outweigh the negative of little proximity. Overall, there are many limitations with research involving the study of relationships. Researchers have very little control over factors that influence the formation of relationships, and external validity is questionable, as many relationships change over time, resulting in the difficulty of obtaining accurate findings, unless gained through longitudinal studies.
Generalisability is an issue, as individual differences lead to people having different opinions, therefore it is wrong to assume all people have the same beliefs on love and relationships. Much of the research is also out of date, and as society is ever changing, more recent studies are more applicable to current situations. Qualitative data is used in the majority of the studies, however quantitative data will be more beneficial as the subject matter tends to be more emotive than other areas of psychology. Lastly, theories such as the sociobiological theory de-humanises relationships, and underestimates humankind’s ability to love.