A relationship can be defined as an encounter with another person or with people that endure through time. Two different theories have been proposed; the Reward/Need Satisfaction theory and the Similarity theory.
If asked why someone is attracted to their partner, they might say because their partner is attentive, supportable and caring. This theory proposes we seek positive stimuli and avoid punishing stimuli; this is because positive stimuli produces positive feelings. Support for this theory comes from Griffit and Guay (1969), participants were evaluated on a creative task by an experimenter and then asked to rate how much they had liked the experimenter; this rating was highest when the experimenter positively evaluated the participants on the task. This study could, however, produce demand characteristics.
Another component of the reward theory is proximity; this can be defined as physical or geographical closeness which represents a requirement for attraction. Festinger (1950) showed the importance of proximity and frequency of interaction. He found that students living in campus accommodation were most friendly with their neighbours and least friendly with students at end the end of their corridor. Also, on any floor, people who lived next to the stairwell were more likely to have more friends than those living mid-corridor. This supports the hypothesis that ‘the further apart two people live, the less likely they are able to meet, or even date’. However, this only applies to the real world, due to the improved communications in recent years, such as the internet, there is now no limit on who you can possibly meet, and even date. Evidence for this is shown through Facebook use; Sheldon et al (2011) study discovered that greater facebook use was positively correlated with positive and negative indicators of relationship satisfaction.
The reward/need satisfaction theory does not account for cultural and gender differences in the formation of relationships. Lott (1994) suggested that in many cultures women are more focused on the needs of others rather than receiving reinforcement, which suggests that this theory is not a universal explanation and therefore is culturally beta biased.
The next theory is the similarity theory; according to this model, there are 2 distinct stages in the formation of relationships. People who sought potential partners for dissimilarity; avoiding those whose personality and attitudes appear too different from their own. Rosenbaum (1986) suggested that dissimilarity rather than similarity was the more important factor in determining whether a relationship will develop. It has been supported by the testing of this in a number of different cultures such as Singh and Tan (1992) in Singapore and Drigotas (1993) in the USA. These studies concluded that participants were first attracted to each other because of similarity of attitudes, and that, as they got to know each other better – those who discovered more dissimilarities than similarities became attracted to each other. These studies are culturally reliable as they can be generalised across further countries and continents.
However, Yoshida (1972), pointed out that this represents only a very narrow view of factors important in romantic relationship formation, other factors play a role. For example, Speakman et al (2007) found that people often choose partners with similar levels of body fat, supporting the fact that other factors play a role.
Byrne’s model emphasises similarity of personality and attitudes; personality has constantly demonstrated that people are more likely to be attracted to others who have similar personality traits than they are to those who have dissimilar traits, proposed by Berscheid and Reis (1998). Yet, this is not always the case; it has also been suggested that couples who are complete opposites of each other can also have happy long-term relationships. But research suggest that similarity is more often the rule in most relationships.
Similarity is important in the formation of relationships; we assume that people similar to us will be more likely to like us, as by ruling out dissimilar people, we lessen the chance of being rejected as a partner, proposed by Condon and Crano (1988).