Two theories that attempt to explain the formation of romantic relationships are the similarity hypothesis and the reward/need theory.
The similarity hypothesis suggests that there are two distinct stages involved, first people sort for dissimilarity, avoiding people who are too different in personality or attitudes. From the remaining pool of people, they choose the person most similar to themselves. According to the theory, people are more likely to be attracted to those who have similar personality to their own e.g. two people who are hard-working and serious are more likely to be attracted to each other.
Similarity often helps in long term relationships – evidence from this comes from Caspi and Hebener who found that married couples with similar personalities were happier than couples who were less similar. The methodological issue in studies of this nature, is the risk of bias, because you cannot objectively measure similarity personalities. However, this study was based on long-term, marriage relationships, whereas the focus of the theory is an attempt to explain how relationships form to begin with. One practical application has come from research into this theory, called ‘attitude alignment’ where partners may attempt to modify their attitudes to become more similar.
Further evidence for the similarity hypothesis comes from Rosenbaum who found that when couples became more dissimilar, attraction levels dropped – suggesting that couples who are more similar are therefore more attracted to each other, and so more likely to form a relationship.
However, Yoshida argued that the theory is reductionist because it only looks at personality and attitudes and ignores other formation factors e.g. economic level, physical condition. Speakermen et al found that people are more attracted to those with similar levels of body fat. This shows that it is not just personality factors that are involved during the formation of a relationship.
The reward/need theory offers an alternative explanation to the formation of romantic relationships. The theory is based on the behavioural approach and suggests that we learn to like a partner and that we are attracted to people who we find rewarding to be with. According to the approach, most of the stimuli in our lives can be rewarding or punishing, and we are motivated to seek rewards and avoid punishments. The principles of the theory are based on operant/classical conditioning – operant conditioning suggests we enter relationships because the presence of some individuals is directly associated with reinforcement as they fulfil