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Interpersonal Attraction Theory
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Love (lûv) n. Warm affection, attachment, liking, or fondness; paternal benevolence; affectionate devotion.
(The Oxford illustrated Dictionary)

This emotion, be it the love of one partner for another; a parent for a child and all it’s dilutions is what is the basis of interpersonal attraction studies : The study of how and why we form the relationships we do. Why do we love, why do we like and even why do we hate ? this complex region of human behaviour has been studied and researched in depth and has lead to the growth of several theories. Each theory is based on research and it is this research which is the topic of study within this writeup.

Interpersonal attraction theories are wide ranging; from theories describing why we might like or dislike a person based on purely biological reasons to those which prefer more romantic notions. There are of course different types of love.

“Rubin (1973) defines liking as positively evaluating another” (Gross)

Interpersonal Attraction is a set of psychological theories which are based on our need for other people, it can be based on proximity, similarity and reciprocity. Most of the main theories in this area utilise these terms and explain their relationship to each other to explain our relationships. For example the matching hypothesis shows how proximity and similarity in attractiveness as well as our shared view of this can be the basis of a relationship. The difference in “loving” relationships was described by Hogg. He used the three headings “Passion” “Commitment” and “Intimacy” to theorise what were essential components of different types of relationships. Romantic love consisted of intimacy and passion,consummate love all three and empty love had only commitment. Each of these headings is as important as the other and were used by others when researching as a base guide.

The main theories are the matching hypothesis, social exchange theory, balance theory and the reinforcement affect model. The subjects that have been chose to be represented here are ones which deal with different stages within a relationships.

Reinforcement deals mainly with why and how relationships begin and social exchange goes on to spell out the possible causes for the failure or success of relationships. Reinforcement harks back to basic theories of psychology and attributes our personal feelings completely to our minds and subconscious. This can seem unacceptable to some people who think that they evaluate a person on that persons merits and not (as in some cases according to this theory) by the environment.

The Reinforcement affect model is based on the idea that we will like people with whom we associate feeling good and dislike people whom we see as treating us badly. This theory was based on four principles, the first of which is the basic fact of stimulus and association: We are attracted to those who give us rewarding stimuli, such as perhaps a compliment and unnatracted to those who berate us or give us any other punishing stimuli. This attraction or repulsion will produce either negative of positive feelings towards a person, changing perhaps how we view them.

This is not a clear cut matter though; there are variations on like and dislike i.e. you can dislike someone a little but that does not mean you hate them. The last point in reinforcement is that those who act neutrally, if associated with an event which is negative or positive, will be evaluated accordingly.

This main study on reinforcement was based on research done in 1970 by Bryne and Clore. It is simple and gives a cause and effect relationship for the changing attitudes towards people around us and shows partly how relationships might develop. The theory, though, is very limited to the basics that all interaction we have is either punishing or rewarding from a single person, which is not a realistic viewpoint. People who are “cruel to be kind” such as parents, teachers etc. are both punishing and caring. Bryne and Clore countered this by suggesting that is a relationship is more positive than negative then it is more likely to succeed.

Veitch and Griffith would also do a study into reinforcement type behaviour. In 1976 they conducted a study which involved a group of subjects who listened to negative broadcast and another group which would listen to a positive broadcast in a waiting room. They were then taken to meet a stranger and, after interacting with this stranger for a time, were asked to evaluate them. those who had heard good news evaluated positively and bad news, negatively. This theory was tested further, to see if heightened anxiety would mean people would evaluate anyone in a different light. A researcher stood in the middle of a suspension bridge, one that was wobbly and definitely induced a great deal of anxiety in anyone walking over it. The researcher ( an attractive female ) stood in the middle of this bridge and conducted surveys on men who went past. They then gave the participants a “home” phone number and invited them to call them if they wanted to find out more about the research. there was a high response to this phone number asking for the researcher. However when the same number of males were asked by the same researcher, but on a safer bridge several miles downstream from the first it was found that there was a far lower response, giving credence to the theory that anxiety will make it easier for someone to “like” someone. This kind of condition is also seen in hostage situations where a hostage will begin to sympathise with and become affectionate to their kidnapper.

Both studies explain how and why a relationship might come about but do not explain how people would cope with disagreement within a relationship or how relationships developed further.

Another theory which has arisen within this subject is social exchange theory. Social exchange theory is characterised by it’s research into development instead of totally on the formation of a relationship. It views a relationship on the basis of cost and reward. Kelly and Thibaut theorised that if the “reward” outweighed the cost, then a relationship was likely to survive ( not unsimilar to Bryne and Clore’s belief that more positive enforcement would work in a relationships favour.) This is because that if the perception is that that person is gaining then they are satisfied. There was also the factor of actual rewards as compared to expected results. If the difference between these two were too great then a relationship was unlikely to succeed. So therefore if someone has unrealistic expectations of a relationship it is likely to fail, realistic expectations means there is more contentment and perhaps a degree of reality serves to discourage people being hurt when expectations are not fulfilled also, of course, if more is gained than expected, then the relationship can be expected to move on. This theory also outlines other reasons for which a relationship might break up such as lack of intimacy or finding someone who is more rewarding.

The fact we have familiarity and intimacy is important in this case because it allows security and, if we have that security then we are unlikely to jump into the uncertainty of a new relationship because staying where they are is at least somewhat successful, but a rebuke from someone else could occur and this, in the long run, would mean that person was less well off. Lack of this intimacy will make it much more easy for a transition to occur, there is little risk, as it were.

This theory of course falters when it comes to relationships in which there is no a alternative partner but they still dissolve. It is also a hard concept for most people to accept as it attributes humans with a naturally selfish biology, that they will always go for what’s best for them and not take others into consideration. Whilst in many situations this can be seen, others would argue that there are situations where partners are open to opportunity but choose to stay together. Also it is a matter of perception, with any one partner perhaps having the perception they are going to gain something better.

To most people these theories leave them feeling uncomfortable. We as humans have always zealously proclaimed this most basic of emotions comes from the heart and the head has no part in it. Love is the pure emotion, not biologically based. Unlike lust which was primal, love is excelled as something unexplainable. People tend to refuse the idea that not only can it be psychologically explained but also physically (butterflies, happiness and other physical signs associated with this emotion.) Romantic love is also hard to rationalise and so it is hard to define it within the bare terms of stimulus and reaction or cost and reward, a complicating matter. The theories mentioned as well as most others do not encompass this emotion fully but is this because it cannot be explained no matter how well researched ? or is because the emotion is too complex to fit into one theory.
All research done into these theories is also now “old” and perhaps new research done into these areas would uncover something new or differing theories could be put forward, to try and make a more comprehensive guide to why we love and hate other people.