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AQA A-Level Psychology Topics -Forming Relationships

AQA A-Level Psychology Topics -Forming Relationships

AQA A-Level Psychology Topics: Forming Relationships

Get to grips with Psychology!

Another post in our series of blogs on Psychology A-level topics, today we consider how relationships are formed.


Anisogamy means two sex cells (or gametes) that are different coming together to reproduce. Men have sperm cells, which are able to reproduce quickly with little energy expenditure and once they start being produced they do not usually stop until the man dies.

Female gametes (eggs or ova) are, in contrast, much less plentiful; they are released in a limited time frame (between puberty and menopause) and require much more energy to produce. This difference (anisogamy) means that men and women use different strategies when choosing their partners.

Inter-Sexual Selection

Females lose more resources than men if they choose a sub-standard partner, so are pickier about who they select. They are more likely to pick a partner who is genetically fit and willing to offer the maximum resources to raise their offspring (a man who will remain by her side as the child grows to protect them both and potentially provide more children).

If they have made a good choice, then their offspring will inherit the positive features of their father and are therefore also more likely to be chosen by women or men in the next generation.

Intra-Sexual Selection

Whilst females prefer quality over quantity, anisogamy suggests that men’s best evolutionary strategy is to have as many partners as possible.

To succeed, men must compete with other males to present themselves as the most attractive mate, encouraging features such as muscles which indicate to the opposite sex an ability to protect both them and their offspring.

Factors Affecting Attraction


Self-disclosure in the context of a relationship refers to how much information someone is willing to share. In the initial stages of a relationship, couples often seek to learn as much as they can about their new partner and feel that this sharing of information brings them closer together.

But can too much sharing scare your partner away? Is not sharing very much information intriguing or frustrating?

Altman and Taylor (1973) identified breadth and depth as important factors of self-disclosure. At the start of a relationship, self-disclosure is likely to cover a range of topics as you seek to explore the key facts about your new partner “What do you do for work”, “Where did you last go on holiday”, but these topics are relatively superficial.

As the relationship develops, people tend to share more detailed and personal information, such as past traumas and desires for the future. If this sharing happens toosoon however, an incompatibility may be found before the other person has reached a suitable level of investment in the relationship. Altman and Taylor referred to this sharing of information as social penetration.

An important aspect of this is the reciprocity of the process, if one person shares more than the other is willing to, there may be a breakdown of trust as one person establishes themselves as more invested than the other.

However, much of the research into self-disclosure is correlational which means that a causal relationship cannot be easily determined; in short it may be that it is the attraction between partners which leads to greater self-disclosure, rather than the sharing of information which leads to greater intimacy.

Physical attractiveness

Physical attractiveness is viewed by society as one of the most important factors of relationship formation, but is this view supported by research?

Physical appearance can be seen as a range of indicators of underlying characteristics. Women with a favourable waist to hip ratio are seen as attractive because they are perceived to be more fertile; people with more symmetrical features are seen to be more genetically fit.

This is because our genes are designed to make us develop symmetrically, but diseases and infections during physical development can cause these small imperfections and asymmetries (Little and Jones, 2003).

The halo effect is a cognitive bias (mental shortcut) that occurs when a person assumes a person has positive traits in terms of personality and other features because they have a pleasing appearance.

The matching hypothesis (Walster et al., 1966) suggests that people realise at a young age that not everybody can form relationships with the most attractive people, so it is important to evaluate their own attractiveness and from this, partners which are the most attainable.

If a person always went for people “out of their league” in terms of physical attractiveness, they may never find a partner, something that would be evolutionarily foolish. This identification of those who have a similar level of attraction, and therefore provide a balance between the level of competition (intra-sexual) and positive traits is referred to as matching.

The Filter Theory

Kerckhoff and Davis (1962) suggested that when selecting partners from a range of those who are potentially available to them (a field of availables), people will use three filters to “narrow down” the choice to those who they have the best chance of a sustainable relationship with. The filter model speaks about three “levels of filters” that are applied to partners.

The first filter proposed when selecting partners was social demography. People are far more likely to have access to people who come from a similar background to themselves. This could relate to geographical proximity, social class, ethnic group or level of education for example.

The second filter that Kerckhoff and Davis suggested was similarity in attitudes. This was supported by their original 1962 longitudinal study of two groups of student couples (those who had been together for more or less than 18 months).

Over seven months, the couples completed questionnaires based on their views and attitudes which were then compared for similarities. Kerckhoff and Davis suggested that similarity of attitudes was the most important factor in the group who had been together for less than 18 months. This is supported by the self-disclosure research described elsewhere in this topic.

The third filter was complementarity, which goes a step further than similarity. Rather than having the same traits and attitudes, such as dominance or humour, a partner who complements their spouse has traits which the other lacks. For example, one partner may be good at organisation, whilst the other is poor at organisation but very good atentertaining guests.

Kerchoff and Davis found that this level of filter was the most important for couples who had been together for more than 18 months. This may be the origins of the classic phrase “opposites attract”, though we may add the condition, although not for the first 18 months of the relationship.

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