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PWP: The Cognitive Explanations for the Formation of Human Relationships

Hello everyone, I hope that you've had a good weekend. Today's episode of The Psychology World Podcast is on the Cognitive Explanations for the Formation of Human Relationships as we start to look at the Psychology Human Relationships. This is an area of psychology that draws upon other areas of psychology to explain relationships. For example, cognitive psychology and social psychology.

Show Notes (Extract from Psychology of Human Relationships 1st Edition)

Now that we understand how our biology can cause us to feel attraction for someone. We can now start to look at the psychological or mental reasons why we find people attractive.

In the cognitive realm of relationships, there are two main theories for relationships.

The first theory that we’ll look at is the similarity-relationships hypothesis. This states that people form a relationship because they are similar.

For example, think about your friend and you’ll probably find that you’re friends with them because you have things in common with them. Such as music preference, common interest and TV interests.

A study that supports this hypothesis is:

Byrne (1961):

Subjects were asked to rate a number of issues on their importance. Ranging from western films to premarital sex to music.

Then two weeks later they were shown a fake questionnaire. It was fake so one of four results could happen. Same on the important issues, same on the unimportant issues, opposite to the subject completely and the same as the subject on all issues.

Then they were asked to rate the attractiveness of the stranger based on their answers.

Results showed that more positive ratings were associated with a similar attitude as well as associated with similarity in important issues.

Critical thinking:

The study has strong internal validity; they measured what they intended to measure; because the study effectively showed that attraction to the stranger was because they had more in common with them. This supports the hypothesis.

However, this study has low ecological validity; can you apply the findings to the real world; because in the real world nobody meets people and rates them on the basis of a questionnaire. Even people on dating websites tend to be shown pictures and other information that impacts on their rating of attractiveness.

Consequently, to improve the experiment another research method could be used to support the findings and add creditability to the study. For example, interviews to see if their ratings were down to similarities or another reason.

Matching hypothesis:

The next major cognitive theory for the formation of personal relationships is the matching hypothesis.

This hypothesis states that we are more likely to be attracted to someone who is equally socially desirable.

One way to think about it is is that your current or past partner according to the hypothesis is about the same in terms of how socially desirable they are.

For example, a popular person would date a popular person.

An unattractive person would date an equally unattractive person.

And so on…

A study that supports this is:

Berscheid et al (1971):

· Subjects were split into High Probability of rejection and low POR

· High POR got to meet their dates before the dance to either reject or accept them.

· Low POR was told that their dates agreed to go with whoever was chosen for them by the computer programme.

· Results showed that attractive subjects choose equally popular and attractive dates compared to High POR who choose more unattractive dates.

· As this was not different in the two groups increasing fear of rejection doesn’t affect the choosing stagey.

· In conclusion, the matching principle may be a determinant of initial contact but not of maintaining already established relationships.

Critical thinking:

A positive of this study is that it can be reproduced therefore future studies can repeat the experiment to test the results. This is positive because it adds creditability to the study if the results are the same or similar.

On the other hand, this study has low temporal validity; how time affects the results; because in this modern age of online dating and the crazy world of dating. It’s possible that the results would be different as the computer programmes that had chosen the dates for the two groups could be more reliable or choose different dates for the two groups. Using more modern programmes to calculate the best match for the person.


In conclusion, the two major cognitive explanations are:

· Similarity attraction hypothesis that states that people are attracted to those you have something in common with, as supported by Byrne (1981)

· The matching hypothesis that states people are attracted to those who are equally socially desirable.

I hope that you've enjoyed today's psychology blog post.

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Have a great week everyone.

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