Chapter 10: Relationships and Attraction
Human beings can find themselves romantically attracted to all sorts of people: people
of the same or different sex, people from different cultures, and people spanning a
considerable age range.
Many studies of relationships are not true experiments with random assignment of participants
to different conditions. Instead, most studies use longitudinal methods to examine the dynamics
that unfold over time in pre-existing relationships.
This kind of research faces the problem of self-selection. When participants select their own
conditions (I.e. choose the type of relationships they’re in), it is hard to differentiate between
the causes in behaviour or relationship outcomes. Are the conditions in their relationship causes
by the situation, or is it that people with a certain personality are more likely to gravitate
towards this situation?
The Importance of Relationships
Relationships greatly affect our physical health. People with many good relationships are less
likely to become sick, have greater psychological well-being, and live longer. Relationships are as
important as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and low physical activity when it comes to
predicting one’s lifespan.
Humans have a biological need to belong. We need social relationships, just as we need food,
water, and air.
It is likely that there is an evolutionary basis of our tendency to seek out social relationships:
o Long-term romantic bonds evolved to facilitate reproduction and to raise offspring.
o Parent-offspring attachments help ensure that infants are protected and will survive
until they can function independently.
o Friendship evolved as a means for non-kin to cooperate and to avoid the costs and perils
of competition and aggression.
If the need to belong is based on evolutionary factors, then there should be some universality
between cultures. That is, there should be similar behaviours in relationships between romantic
partners, parents and children, siblings, and friends in different cultures around the world.
o There are some patterns of social behaviour that appear to be universal – caregiving
between a mother and child, wrestling between siblings, flirtation by young people who
are courting affection, and dominance displays between adolescent males.
The need to belong is satiable, meaning that once it is satisfied, we stop seeking it. When people
are hungry, they eat until they are full and do not eat more than necessary. Similarly, when
people find they have enough social relationships to be satisfied, they do not seek out additional
relationships. On average, people limit themselves to about six close friends. Rhesus Monkeys and Surrogate Mothers
Harry Harlow raised baby rhesus monkeys in isolation, with only the presence of two surrogate
“mothers”. One “mother” was made of wire, but provided milk. The other was made of soft cloth, but
did not provide milk. Observations showed that in times of threat, the baby rhesus monkey would go to
the cloth mother for comfort. They will only approach the wire mother for food. This shows that infant
monkeys prefer the surrogate mother that provides warmth and comfort over a wire mother that
Additionally, the monkeys raised in isolation were in no way normal when they reached adolescence.
They failed to interact properly with other monkeys, were highly fearful, and displayed inappropriate
sexual behaviour, such as attacking potential mates.
In humans, mortality rates are higher for divorced, unmarried, and windowed individuals.
Admissions to hospitals for psychological problems are higher for divorced than for married
individuals. Suicide and crime rates are higher for single and divorced people.
Relationships and the Sense of Self
Beyond being crucial to our physical and emotional well-being, social relationships shape our
very sense of who we are.
One way that relationships are central to our identities is our relational self – that is, the beliefs,
feelings, and expectations about ourselves that derive from our relationships with significant
others in our lives.
When we encounter someone who reminds us of a significant other, the specific “self” we tend
to be when we’re around this significant other is activated.
o Ex. your mother is always criticizing your efforts and accomplishments. Around her, your
relational self will be defined by a sense of inadequacy and shame. Thus, when you
meet people who remind you of your mother, you’re likely to transfer those feelings
onto your interactions with them.
Different Ways of Relating to Others
There are two fundamentally different types of relationships:
o Communal relationships are relationships in which the individuals feel a special
responsibility for one another and give and receive according to the principle of need.
Such relationships are often long term. Close friends, parents, siblings, and spouses are
examples of people you have communal relationships with.
o Exchange relationships are trade-based relationships, often short term, in which
individuals feel little or no responsibility for one another. Giving and receiving are
governed by concerns about equity and reciprocity. Examples of exchange relationships
include interactions with salespeople and bureaucrats, or with workers and supervisors
in a business organization. There are cultural differences when it comes to these two types of relationships. East Asian and
Latin American societies are inclined to take a communal approach to many situations, whereas
European and Commonwealth countries would be inclined to take an exchange approach.
Many social psychologists believe that even the most intimate relationships are based to some
extent on exchange. People tend to like and gravitate toward those who provide them with
rewards. The rewards don’t have to be tangible or immediate, and they don’t have to come
from direct interaction.
o Ex. you may be friends with someone because they’re funny and make you laugh, or
because they make you feel good about yourself when you’re around them.
The social exchange theory is based on the assumption that people are motivated to maximize
their own feelings of satisfaction. People seek out rewards in their interactions with others, and
they are willing to pay certain costs to obtain them (ex. your friend does something nice for you,
and you also have to do something nice for them in order to maintain your friendship).
Generally, people will seek out interactions in which the rewards outweigh the costs, thus giving
them a net gain.
The equity theory maintains that people are motivated to pursue fairness in their relationships.
That is, rewards and costs are shared equally among individuals in the relationship.
The attachment theory states that our early attachments with our parents and other caregivers
shape our relationships for the rest of our lives.
Human infants are very vulnerable, and in order to survive, they form attachments with their
parents/caregivers that raise them until they are independent.
There are four attachment styles:
Secure attachment style Individuals are confident in their relationships, are comfortable with
intimacy, and want to be close to others during times of threat. This
attachment style is shaped by caring parents who are attentive to their
Anxious-preoccupied style Individuals are comfortable with and seek out intimacy but do so
mainly out of a fear of rejection and abandonment. They are clingy and
tend not to have a positive view of themselves. This attachment style is
shaped by parents who have an inconsistent attitude towards their
child, sometimes intruding on their child’s actions, and sometimes
rejecting the child.
Dismissive-avoidant style Individuals are independent and self-reliant. They seek less intimacy
with others and deny the importance of close relationships. This
attachment style is shaped by parents who reject their child.
Fearful-avoidant style Individuals are ambivalent and are discomforted by close relationships.
They often desire closeness with others but feel unworthy of others’
affection and so do not seek out intimacy. This attachment style is
shaped by parents who reject their child. The Strange Situation
Infants and their caregivers enter an unfamiliar room filled with toys. The infant plays with the toys and
a stranger enters the room. The caregiver exits, leaving the infant alone with the stranger. Separation
causes the infant to become distressed. After three minutes, the caregiver returns.
Caregivers who quickly responded to distressed cries were typically securely attached. The infants were
comfortable exploring the room and felt safe in the presence of the caregiver.
Caregivers who were not reliable in their responses to their infant tended to have infants who showed
anxious attachments. They were likely to cry or become angry when they were placed in the unfamiliar
room, and were less comforted by their caregiver.
Caregivers who rejected their infants tended to produce children with an avoidant attachment. They
rarely sought out the caregiver, and even rejected attention when it was offered.
In a study, romantic couples were observed as they said goodbye in an airport. Couples with
avoidant attachment styles sought less physical contact and embraced and held hands less.
Couples with anxious attachment styles expressed more fear and sadness.
Anxious and avoidant attachment are adaptive responses to the type of care that people receive
(i.e. it is not safe to trust someone who is unreliable). However, problems may arise when we
carry these attachment styles over to new relationships.
There are four factors to attraction: proximity, similarity, physical attractiveness, and
Physical proximity, or propinquity, determines who you form relationships with. It is a simple
matter of who you are in contact with. You are more exposed to people who live close to you,
therefore giving you more opportunities to form a relationship.
Physical distance matters less than functional distance when it comes to opportunities to
encounter others. Functional distance is the tendency of an architectural layout to encourage
contact between people. For example, in an apartment, someone living on the first floor may be
physically closer to the person living on the second floor directly above them, and physically
further from the person who lives two doors down the hall. However, they are functionally
closer to the latter, since they can see each other more often, while the person on the second
floor is separated from sight. Westgate Housing Study
Married MIT students were randomly assigned to one of seventeen buildings in a housing complex
isolated from the rest of the city. Virtually no one knows each other beforehand. So who ends up liking
65% of the residents had at least one close friend that lived in the same building as them. However,
those living in the same building represented only 5% of all residents.
We tend to like the people we know we are going to interact with. For example, we know that
eventually we will have to interact with our classmates, our teachers, and our neighbours, so we
make an effort to have our initial encounters go well.
We tend to like novel stimuli more after we have been repeatedly exposed to it. This is called
the mere exposure effect.
There have been correlational studies that support the mere exposure effect. For example,
people tend to like letters like E and R. such letters appear very frequently in the English
o What is the directionality of the cause? Does repeated exposure lead to us liking the
stimulus more? Or do we like a stimulus and purposely expose ourselves to it more?
o It is more likely that we like the letters E and R because we are exposed to it more often,
and not that we purposely use more E’s and R’s in our language because we like it.
Experimental studies have tested the mere exposure effect by exposing foreign material
(Turkish words, Chinese characters, and pictures of unfamiliar faces) to participants and asking
them to decide if they liked them or not. Stimuli that were exposed more frequently tended to
be liked more by participants.
People prefer mirror images of themselves because they often see themselves through the
mirror. People also prefer true images of others because they see others face to face.
Dog Study: Do we select dogs that look like us?
45 dogs and their owners were photographed separately. Participants were the