The reward/need satisfaction theory as proposed by Bryne and Clore, states that we form friendships and relationships to receive rewards/reinforcement from the others. Relationships provide rewards that satisfy our social needs. Rewards include things like approval, sex, status, love, money, respect, agreement with our opinions, smiling etc. Our social needs are things like self-esteem, affiliation, dependency, influence etc. Receiving rewards and having our needs satisfied, motivates us to continue the relationships.
The theory combines the principals of operant conditioning (Skinner) and classical conditioning (Pavlov). Operant conditioning proposes that we will repeat any behaviour that provides us with reinforcement- in this case of relationships, being in a relationship is positively reinforced because it is rewarding. Classical conditioning proposes we learn through association-this can also be applied to relationships. When we meet someone in a positive mood, we are more inclined to like them. Therefore, a previous neutral stimuli becomes positively associated with a pleasant event.
A strength is that there has been research to support the claim that people are attracted to others due to reinforcement. For example, Griffitt & Guay found that when participants were positively evaluated (i. e. rewarded) on a creative task rated their like for the researcher as high. Furthermore, Griffitt & Guay also found support for the claim that we are attracted to people through association. In the same study, an onlooker was present when the researcher positively evaluated the participant- they also rated their like for the onlooker as high- support that we are attracted through association.
This suggests that the principals of operant and classical conditional in the reward/need satisfaction do apply and the theory can sufficiently explain the formation of relationships. Another strength is that there has been quantifiable, physiological research to support the claim that we are attracted to people who are rewarding to be with. For example, Aron found that romantic love was associated with the reward regions of the brain. Furthermore, Aron provides an evolutionary explanation to support this idea.
He suggests that this reward system was evolved in order for our ancestors to focus their energies on 1 person (thus increasing mating success). This suggests that there is an adaptive reason to be attracted to individuals that are rewarding which results in the formation of relationships. However, this idea assumes that love is just a series of chemical reactions, thus being deterministic. However, a weakness is that research done on the Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory may lack validity.
For example, Hays suggests that research has only looked at the satisfaction of gaining rewards and ignored the possible satisfaction gained from giving rewards. Loft provides further support for this idea- he states that in some cultures, women are more focused on giving rewards; these women are ignored by the theory. Therefore, it could be suggested that the theory is an insufficient explanation of the overall picture of gaining satisfaction as it lacks generalizability to situations where people gain satisfaction from giving rewards.
The filter model (Kerckhoff and Davis, 1962) argues that relationships develop through three ‘filters’, referring to the ‘field of availables’ as the possible people that we could have a relationship with. They argued that we ‘filter out’ potential partners for different reasons at different times, so that the field of availables is gradually narrowed down to a relatively small ‘field of desirables’- those who we would consider as potential partners. The first of the filters is social/demographic variables. This filter gets rid of those we are unlikely to come into contact with.
People we are likely to come into contact with are those of a similar educational level and economic background, people of the same age and people who go to the same school, work or live in the same area. The second filter is the similarity of attitudes and values. After beginning a relationship similarity becomes more important- this is because people with similar attitudes and beliefs are easier to talk to- those who do not have much in common with us are filtered out. The final filter is the complementarity of emotional needs- this is how well 2 people fit together and meet each other’s needs- thus becomes more important after 18 months.
A strength is that there has been research to support the ideas of the filter model. For example, Sprecher found that that those couples who were similar in the social/demographic filter were more likely to develop long-term relationships. Furthermore, Kerckhoff and Davies found that those who were similar in the complementary needs filter were more likely to develop a long term relationship. This suggests that the model is a sufficient explanation for the formation of relationships. However, it could be criticised for lacking ecological validity- e. g. splitting relationships into stages is extremely artificial.
Also Levinger et al (1970) failed to replicate their study successfully, suggesting that the study lacks validity. This also suggests that it is doubtful we choose romantic partners on the basis of complementary emotional needs. However, a weakness is that there are a few theoretical concerns that are raised by this model. It ignores both emotional and physical attractions and purely focuses on the whole thought process of relationship formation. Can we really state that all relationships are formed without acknowledgement of emotional or physical parameters?
This seems highly unlikely as biologically it is proven that there is some evolutionary attraction to certain appearances that make you seem more fertile. Although we can very clearly follow the filter model theory due to its very simple and linear manner, what’s more it lead to Murstein’s model which is a far more elaborate explanation of the formation of relationships and involves the physical and emotional aspects of selecting a partner for a relationship; which of course the original filter model should be credited for.