Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

Formation of Relationships #2



Reinforcement & Need Satisfaction

This approach is based on the idea that we form friendships and relationships for the rewards or reinforcements that we receive from others.

  • meet social needs – eg: approval meets self-esteem, being comforted meets dependency, controlling meets dominance, making love meets sex needs – Argyle 1988
    • Needs Satisfaction – Argyle 1994

adds aggression (hositlity), affiliation (company) & biological (eating together)

  • approval, smiling from others
  • sex, help, love, status, money, agreement with opinions – Foa & Foa 1975
  • individuals high on rewardingness (friendly, co-operative, smiling, warm) are consistently liked more – Argyle 1988
  • Classical Conditioning – Byrne 1971
    • similar attitudes produce positive feelings
    • dissimilar attitudes produce negative feelings
    • photo of person A (NS->CS) liked more (CR) by person B when person C expresses similar attitudes (US produces UR)
    • male students liked female photos more with diluted pupils – Hess 1975

Male students were presented with what appeared to be two identical photographs of an attractive young woman and had to say which they preferred.

One of the photographs had been slightly altered to make the woman’s pupils larger – and this was the one chosen by the vast majority of the participants, though they couldn’t really say why they preferred it.

Pupils dilate involuntarily when we see something that pleases us.. So, effectively the male students were liking someone that seemed to like them!

  • Reinforcement Affect Model – Clore & Byrne 1974

We learn to associate positive feelings (affect) with people or situations which reward us (reinforcement)

  • Veitch & Griffitt 1976

To test the Reinforcement Affect  Model, Veitch  & Griffit arranged for  single participants to wait in the  experimenter’s office while the  experimenter went on an errand.

The radio was left on, playing music.  There were  two news broadcasts  during the time the experimenter was  away. The broadcasts were either  ‘good’ or ‘bad’ news.

  • Participant exposed to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ news
  • Participant asked to complete ‘Feelings Scale’ (emotional state)
  • reads questionnaire completed by other student

The questionnaire was completed  to be in either disagreement or close agreement with attitudes expressed by the Participant in an earlier questionnaire done in class.

  • completes Interpersonal Judgement Scale on other student
  • ‘good news’ Participants higher rating for other student

also more attracted to other student


affect stronger – similar attitudes

The affect was stronger for those with similar attitudes, though it did also occur where attitudes were dissimilar.

  • strangers expressed greater liking for each other when successful in games-like task than when unsuccessful – Rabbie & Horowitz 1960
  • female students with lowered self-esteem rated attentive male more than those with higher self-esteem – Elaine Walster 1965

Female students waiting to take  part  in a Psychology experiment  were  approached individually by  an  attractive male confederate  who, after talking to them for a  while, asked them for a date.

During the experiment, the  researcher manipulated the  participants’ self- esteem by giving  them positive or negative feedback   from several tests they had taken.

The participants were then asked  to  rate several people they knew  including the male confederate.  Those females who had been  given negative feedback rated the  confederate higher than those who  had been given positive feedback.

This suggests their lowered self-  esteem had led them to express  more liking for a person who liked  them, thus raising their  confidence.

Similar results were obtained by  Aronson & Linder (1965). Their  participants  were briefed by a researcher and  then ‘accidentally’ heard this  person making  remarks about  them to someone else. When  asked later how they felt about  the  researcher, the participants  liked them better  if the overheard  remarks were uniformly  complimentary rather than  uniformly  derogatory. However,  they liked best of all  the  researchers whose comments  progressed from unfavourable to  favourable  during the course of  the experiment, thus  boosting  their self-esteem.

However, an important 1973 study  by Walster et al failed to replicate  these  manipulated self-esteem/hard-to-  get effects.

One group of men calling a  oman to whom they had  supposedly been matched by a  computer found the woman (a  confederate) was very available,  delighted to receive their call and  grateful to be asked out. The other group of men found she agreed to  meet for coffee with some  reluctance as she had many other  dates and didn’t want to get  involved with anyone new.

Both groups of men found the  woman equally desirable.

Walster et al then tried another  tack. Would having a woman who  was keen on you but  ‘hard to get’  for everyone else make a  difference? To test this, they had  their (male) participants contact 3  women:-

  • The first appeared keen to meet anyone assigned by the  computer
  • The second was generally hard to get and not keen to  date any of the men assigned  to her by the computer
  • The third appeared not keen to date at all  but then  became very keen to date the  man calling her

As hypothesised, the third woman  was by far and away the most  popular among the male callers.

  • ‘bogus stranger’ method artificial – Steve Duck 1992
  • satisfaction of need does not necessarily increase liking – eg: men with prostitutes
  • assumes that people are totally selfish
    • what about people who like to give to others?
  • more relevant to Western individualistic countries than Eastern collective?
  • symmetry is a handicap – requires good genes – A P Moller 1992, D Concar 1995

This concept is an extension of  Amotz Zahavi’s Handicap  Hypothesis  (1975).

This postulates that handicaps  passed on through the genes –  such as a bird having a very long  tail – are sexually selected  because, for an animal to survive  with a notable handicap, it must  be genetically superior to others  of its species.

Moller and Concar, separately,  have argued that  symmetry in  humans is genetically expensive –  effectively a handicap. Therefore,  we are attracted  to beauty  because, in terms of Zahavi’s  theory, it indicates ‘good genes’.

Anthony Little, Coren Apicella  & Frank Marlowe (2007) found  evidence of the universal appeal of  symmetry when they compared  preferences for symmetry in both  the UK and the Hazda, a hunter- gatherer tribe in Tanzania. Both  groups preferred symmetrical  faces – the  Hazda more so!

  • Matching Hypothesis
    • attracted to people of same level of attractiveness
      • fear of rejection by more attractive – Huston 1973

Huston argued that the evidence for  the Matching Hypothesis didn’t come  from matching but instead on the  tendency of people to avoid rejection.  Hence, they choose someone  similarly attractive to themselves, to  avoid being rejected by someone  more attractive than themselves.

Huston attempted to prove this by  showing participants photos of  people who had already  indicated  that they would accept the  participant as a  partner. The  participant usually chose the person  rated as most attractive.

However, the study has very flawed  ecological validity as the  relationship was certain; and, in real  life, people wouldn’t be certain.  Hence, they are still more likely to  choose someone of equal  attractiveness to avoid  possible  rejection.

  • Expectancy-Value Theory: try to get most attractive partner who might realistically want us – what is ‘fitting’ (Roger Brown, 1986)
  • first ‘computer dance’ did not support – Elaine Walster, V Aronson, D Abrahams & L Rottman 1966

See document(s): computer_dances.html

  • follow-on info did
  • repeat ‘computer dance’ did – Elaine Walster & G William Walster 1969

On the second run, the students met beforehand which allowed them to think about the qualities they were looking for in a partner.

Students expressed the most liking for those who were at the same level of physical attractiveness.

  • engaged & dating couples judged from photos to be similar levels of physical attractiveness – Bernard Murstein 1972

Judges rated photos of each  partner of 99  couples – engaged  or steady – for physical  attractiveness on a 5-point scale,  without knowing who was paired  with who.

The couples then had to rate their  own and their partner’s physical  attractiveness.

Judges’ ratings strongly supported  the  Matching Hypothesis –  partners received very  similar  ratings and they were significantly  more alike than the same ratings  given to  ‘random couples’ -ie: the  actual couples randomly sorted  into couples to form a  control  group.

How partners rated themselves for  attractiveness was significantly  more similar than self-ratings for  random couples. However,  partners’ ratings of each other did  not prove significant.

Murstein concluded: “Individuals  with equal market value for  physical attractiveness are more  likely to associate in an intimate  relationship such as premarital  engagement than individuals with  disparate values.” in  ‘Physical  Attractiveness & Marital Choice’ in  Journal of Personality & Social  Psychology  #22

  • married couples more similar than dating couples – Murstein & P Christy 1976
  • can also include trade-off with other characteristics – eg: very beautiful (Marilyn Monroe) & very intelligent  (Arthur Miller) or very beautiful (Anna Nicole Smith) & very wealthy (J Howard Marshall)
  • ‘personality’?
    • more important than looks?
    • warm and competent liked more than others – Zick Rubin 1973
    • cultural factors
      • eg: extroversion valued more than introversion – Steve Duck 1999
      • Hazel Markus, Shinobu Kitayama & Rachel Heiman 1997

American and Canadian students rated ‘assertive’ and ‘strong’ with ‘physical attractiveness’

Korean students rated ‘sensitive’ and ‘generous’ with ‘physical attractiveness’

  • perception of personality trait may change over length of relationship – Diane Felmlee 1995

Eg: ‘predictability’ may be interpreted as  ‘dependability’ in the earlier stages of a  relationship; but after several years  ‘predictability’ might be boring.

4 Other Factors

  • proximity
    • married graduate students assigned randomly to 17 2-storey buildings – Leon Festinger, Stanley Schacter & Kurt Back 1950
      • 2/3 closest friends in same building
      • close friends 2x likely to be on same floor

Living on the same floor as someone  increases the likelihood of bumping  into them more often than people  who live on another floor.

This study suggests that greater  contact increases the likelihood that  relationships will form.

In interviews residents mentioned  41% of neighbours who lived next  door, 22% who lived 2 doors away  (approx 30 feet) and 10% of those  who lived at the other end of the hall.

  • students living near stairs had most friends
  • residents mentioned

41% next door

22% 2 doors away

10% other end of hall

  • # college roommates 2x as likely to be friends as floormates # floormates 2x as likely to be friends as general residents – R F Priest & J Sawyer 1967
  • liking of a stranger related to frequency of contact – S Saegart 1973

Participants were asked to rate the tastes of various drinks. During this process, they came into contact with a stranger 1, 2, 5 or 10 times.

  • 5000 Philadelphia marriage licences – J S Bossard 1932
    • clear tendency for proximity
    • 1/3 within 5 blocks
  • 50% of people in Columbus, Ohio, married people within walking distance – Clarke 1952
  • less important today with greater travel & mobility?
  • most of enemies of apartment blocks in California lived close by – E B Ebbeson, G L Kjos & V J Konecni 1976
    • initial impression key factor – A Schiffenbauer & R S Schiavo 1976

A participant had to wait in a laboratory setting with a female confederate who acted either in a a pleasant or unpleasant manner towards the participant.

When the confederate acted pleasantly, the closer she sat to the participant, the better she was liked. When she acted unpleasantly, the closer she sat to the participant, the less she was liked.

Proximity appeared to increase the intensity of the initial reaction.

  • attitude
    • T M Newcomb 1961
      • 17 students rent-free housing

17 male students were allowed to live  rent-free for a year in a house at the  University of Michigan in return  for  their participation.

Prior to being assigned rooms,  information was obtained about them  from tests and questionnaires. This  enabled Newcomb to assign on the  basis of similarity of attitudes or  dissimilarity of attitudes.

The men took tests and  questionnaires at regular intervals (to  gather information about attitude) but  otherwise lived as  they would in any  dormitory.

  • students of similar attitudes rooming together

58% formed friendships

  • students of dissimilar attitudes rooming together

25% formed friendships

  • Interpersonal Balance Theory – Fritz Heider 1946, T Newcomb 1953/61

requirement for Cognitive Consistency

People like to have a clear, ordered consistent view of the world. ‘Hence we are balanced’ if we agree with our friends and disagree with our enemies.

get rid of inconsistency by reinterpretation (Cognitive Action) or end relationship (Behavioural)

2nd year study: familiarity more impt than similarity of beliefs

Newcomb’s follow-up the next year did not produce the same results. Familiarity was more important.

Regardless of whether low or high similarity was the basis of the room allocations, roommates came to like each other.

what about people who cope with blatant inconsistency?

  • preference for leisure activities more impt than attitudes – C Werner & P Parmalee 1979
    • “those who play together stay together”
  • dating partners most desirable when similar – Donn Byrne, Oliver London & Keith Reeves 1968

The participants were American university  students who completed and attitude &  personality questionnaire. Half were then sent  off on a blind dates with people they were told  were ‘similar’ in attitude & personality to  themselves; the other half went on dates with  people ‘dissimilar’ to themselves.

The information on attitude similarity was faked.

  • other person seemed to have similar attitudes on either 75% or 25% of topics
  • more effect on interpersonal attraction when attitudes important to participant
  • most desirable also influenced by researchers’ prior rating of date’s attractiveness

A potential confounding variable here is that  the researchers told the participants before the  date how attractive their date was.

Since similarity and attractiveness both  influenced how desirable the date was when  rated afterwards, it is difficult to be sure just  how much the desirability was influenced by  similarity.

  • demographics
    • people relate better to others of same age, sex, social class, ethnic group, educational background, etc – Sharon Brehm & Saul Kassin 1996
    • secondary school students’ best friends tended to be of same age, religion, sex, social class & ethnic background – D B Kandel 1978
  • personality
    • “Birds of a feather flock together”? or “Opposites attract”?
    • most evidence supports similarity
    • 1000 engaged couples 42 personality characteristics – R L Burgess & P Wallin 1953
      • no support for opposites attract
      • significant within-couple similarity for 14 characteristics

They found significant within-couple similarity for 14 personality characteristics such as feelings easily hurt or leader of social events.

  • married couples with complementary needs happier – R F Winch 1958

For example: if someone who is domineering  marries someone who is submissive, then they  both have their needs fulfilled.

However, Michael Botwin, David Buss &  Todd Shackelford (1997) contradicted this  when they found domineering people ideally  looked for someone also strong while  submissive people ideally wanted non- domineering partners.

  • importance of similarity – Zick Rubin 1973
    • if we like those who are similar to us, then they will like us
    • communication is easier with those who are like us
    • similar others confirm ‘rightness’ of attitudes & beliefs
    • if we like ourselves, we will like others who resemble ourselves
    • similar people likely to enjoy similar activities
    • dating partners tended to be similar in physique, age, intelligence, religion, physical attractiveness and attitudes towards sex – C T Hill 1976
    • high degree of similarity impt in initial choice for female room-mates – Hill & D E Stull 1981

Similarity was also a good predictor for them continuing to room together.

Hill & Stull did not find similarity to be so important for men rooming together.

  • marital low level positive correlations on wide range of measures – David Nias 1977
    • personality
    • leisure interests
    • reading tastes
    • sports
    • attitudes to children
  • Reciprocal Liking
    • biological response to those who like us – E Hess 1975

Hess presented male students with two identical photographs of an attractive young woman – but one of the photos had been slightly altered so that the woman’s pupils appeared larger.

Far more male students preferred the ‘doctored’ photo when asked to choose – but couldn’t say why.

Involuntary pupil dilation occurs when we see something we like. So the male students were expressing a preference for the photograph in which the woman appeared to like them!

  • increases our self-esteem – Walster 1965

For details, see Elaine Walster  1965 on Formation of Relationships.

  • both similarity & complimentarity impt for successful relationships – Robert Sternberg & S Grajek 1984


  • personal/sensitive information

Sternberg (1986) identified intimacy as a key component of both liking and loving.

  • Social Penetration Theory – Altman & Taylor 1973

The development of a relationship involves increased self-disclosure on both sides.

  • Norm of Self-Disclosure Reprocity

This norm is usually followed by people in the early stages of a relationship in which how much one reveals about oneself is paced with how much the other is revealing about themselves.

According to Altman & Taylor, revealing too much about oneself too quickly can be threatening to the other person.

“disclosure begets disclosure” – Berg 1987

Disclosure Reprocity Effect

The more someone tell us about them, the more we feel obliged to tell them about us.

  • 4 stages


small talk, cautious & tentative

Exploratory Affective Changes

letting the other get to know you

Often the level of conversation with  casual acquaintances or  neighbours.

Affective Changes

increasingly intimate

Eg: dating relationships, close friendships

Stable Exchange

deep knowledge of other

Achieved, according to Altman & Taylor, in only a few relationships.

  • partners listen and validate each other
  • Norm decreases – Archer 1979

In an intimate relationship over  time, the other person is likely to  offer support and understanding  rather than self-disclose.

  • Depenetration – Altman & Taylor 1973

This involves abandoning self- disclosure across a wide range of topics.

topics choosen to hurt – Tolstedt & Stokes 1984

A variation of Depenetration is to talk intimately about only a few  topics which are usually chosen to  hurt the other person and usually  involve negative feelings.

  • women disclose more than men?
    • meta-analysis – Dindia & Allen 1992

Their meta-analysis reviewed 205 studies covering some 24,000  participants in total.

women disclose more to romantic partners & same-sex friends

no diff in disclosure of males & females to male friends

However, Dindia & Allen did conclude that males preferred to disclose to men rather than women.

differences small but unchanged over 30 years plus

  • gender differences in same sex friendships – Wright 1982

women ‘face-to-face’

Women will converse in close proximity, directly facing each other.

Women may be able to relate to  each other better on an emotional  level. This kind of intimacy would  be facilitated by facing the other  person.

This idea of women being more able to handle emotional intimacy may be supported by Gilligan’s (1982) work on moral  reasoning. From this she asserted that young women tend to favour a more caring and connecting  perspective as a basis for dealing  with other people.

men ‘side-by-side’

Men seem to prefer to be side-by- side posture and are often instrumental – ie: doing something together. (Eg: watching a football match.)

men disliked being sat opposite but women preferred it – Fisher & Byrne 1975

Fisher & Byrne had male or female confederates sit next to people working in a library.

When a confederate sat opposite a male, the student appeared  uncomfortable and placed books or  other obstacles in between them.  They seemed more at ease when a confederate sat at side of them.

However, female students seemed more uncomfortable when a confederate

  • Stage Theories
    • Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959)1.1 People seek out and maintain those relationships in which the rewards exceed the costs.
      • This theory suggests that behavior of socialized persons is purposive, or goal oriented, and not random.
      • People repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid those that go unrewarded.
      • If reciprocity does not exist (if nothing is received in return) a relationship will likely terminate.


Stimulus-Value-Role (Murstein, 1971, 1987)
– Stimulus is the trait (usually physical) that draws your attention to the person.
– After time is spent together dating or hanging out, Values are compared for compatibility and evaluation of maximization of rewards while minimization of costs is calculated.
-If after time and relational compatibility supports it, the pair may choose to take Roles, which typically include exclusive dating, cohabitation, engagement, or marriage.

advantages – Buss 1999

  • different criteria for men in short-term relationships? – Buss & Schmitt 1993

Buss found that women who  go in  for what he calls ‘short-term mating’  perceived the  benefits and possible  costs of such relationships  differently  to those who did not.

Benefits perceived included:-

  • increased sexual variety  and pleasure
  • increasing their ability to attract men
  • material gains such as expensive clothes
  • practical gains such as career advancement

These women tended to be less  concerned that having a variety of  partners would damage their  reputation and status. Many cited  problems with their long-term  partner as the reason they sought  out  alternatives.

However, Seto, Lalumière &  Quinsey (1995) found that  women  with low self-esteem  reported  having more partners, including  more one-night stands and a  preference for brief relationships.

may increase chance of conception?

Baker & Bellis  (1994) at the University of  Manchester rather controversially  have put forward evidence that a  woman is more  likely to orgasm  with an irregular partner than a  regular one, thus increasing her  chances of conception.

  • different criteria for men in short-term relationships? – Buss & Schmitt 1993

Buss & Schmitt found that men  rated promiscuity and experience  important for short- term  relationships but not for longer- term ones. Women did not  consider these desirable  qualities either for short or long- term relationships.

Physical attractiveness was more  important for both sexes in short- term relationships than it was in  long-term ones – although men  felt more strongly about this than  women did.

Men were more reluctant to  consider a short-term relationship  with someone who seemed to  be  looking for commitment. Women  were more wary than men of even  a short-term relationship  with  someone who already had a  partner.