Attraction and Exclusion
The need to belong
Humans have a strong desire to connect with others and form close, lasting relationships. This ‘need to belong’ is a fundamental part of our role as social and cultural beings. Social animals need others to survive and reproduce. This can be achieved by forming relationships (e.g, group membership, marriage) and gaining social acceptance (e.g., yielding to peer pressure, modeling acceptable behaviours). However, engaging in socially unacceptable behaviour or attitudes can lead to prejudice (e.g., racism, homophobia, sexism) and ostracism. Culturally, humans connect with others and seek validation and recognition of their relationships. For example in Western societies open marriage and all forms of polygamy are considered as being socially unacceptable.
However, this may not be so in other social or cultural contexts (see Polygamy World Map).
The human need to belong has two components: Regular social contact with others, and close, stable, mutually intimate contact. Partially meeting or failing to meet these needs can result in significant dissatisfaction or ill health.
Those unable to satisfy their need to belong may seek bonds with other things (e.g., an animal or a television show). An interesting example of this comes from the BBC documentary Love me, love my doll about men who purchase made-to-order life-like silicon dolls as companions (See Love me, love my doll). The issue here is not the doll as a sexual object but the doll as a companion - being treated as human being. The doll is given a name, dressed and seated for meals or to watch television, taken out for a drive, to a cafe, on picnics, photographed, taken on holidays etc. What I find even more disturbing than the need to purchase these companions, is that someone actually identified (intentionally or unintentionally) that there was a market for such a commodity. (Buy a companion - a sad indictment of our isolating, valueless, consumer-driven Western society?)
Our textbook provides the Internet as an example of how many people create and maintain social connections, and in some cases a social life. The pervasive social use of mobile phones, text messaging and email are similar. But what is the quality of most of this ‘connectedness’? (See Tutorial Two: Communication). In some ways this is another indictment of our society as it demonstrates how impersonal and often superficial some of our human connections have become. (But are they less valuable? I suspect these connections are of great value to many people). Indeed, the human need for connection is so strong that people will go to extreme lengths to meet that need. The textbook describes isolated prisoners yelling down toilet bowls in the hope of being heard by others through the drain pipes.
As the textbook concludes we tend to like good-looking, friendly, similar people or those who are ‘nice’ to us (p. 333). Apparently, people intuitively know what fosters attraction and use this to ingratiate others. I wonder how aware people are of this. Is this intuition stronger in more attractive people?
The matching hypothesis is an interesting concept. This hypothesis suggests that humans form relationships or friendships with others who are equally attractive. Baumeister & Bushman (2008) suggest that this is deeply embedded in our psyche and arises from our social (rather than cultural) needs (e.g., helping our kin: See The influences of culture & nature on social psychology). Overall people will still select partners and friends most similar to themselves.
Overall people will still select partners and friends most similar to themselves
Liking between individuals can be promoted through:
- Rewards: Reinforcement theory; doing favours & praising others
- e.g., A man buys a woman flowers, dinner or gifts
- Reciprocity: Complimenting others, reciprocal liking, mimicry. (Balance Theory, Social Exchange Theory)
- e.g., Street gang members dressing and behaving in a similar syle
- Mere exposure: familiarity, shared experiences (good or bad)
- e.g., Military reunions better patronised by those who fought together than those groups who did not experience active combat.
- However, research has identitifed an important facet of propinquity (the close physical or psychological proximity of people); familiarity or regular contact will amplify your liking or disliking for an individual or group. Thus familiarity does not breed contempt or liking but intensifies the prevailing state of the relationship.
Beautiful is good effect
According to the textbook:
- People prefer attractive over unattractive others (When all else is equal)
- Attractive people are seen as being superior according to the "beautiful is good effect"
- Attractive children fare better than other children
- Being young and healthy equates to being a good mate and potential partner ( Evolutionary perspective)
- An average face is more attractive than a distinctive face
- Women are more attracted to rich or successful looking men
While I accept that there are some universal human features that make a person "good-looking" (e.g., facial symmetry - You could ask a plastic surgeon for the formula), I believe the textbook provides a very narrow view of how we conceptualise beauty or how we judge people as being asthetically pleasing. This online PowerPoint presentation offers a different perspective: Beauty & Culture
Beauty & Culture
The following summary is taken directy from the Beauty & Culture presentation:
Humans attach a significant power and importance to being socially accepted. Rejection equates to social exclusion, which occurs when a person is prevented from forming or maintaining a social bond with another person or group. Being excluded, rejected or ignored by others is referred to as ostracism, and can result in a range of psychological reactions.
I was quite astounded by the historical account of ostracism given in the textbook reporting the need to be named 6,000 times before being rejected by the community for 10 years (p. 342). Times have certainly changed. Based on those figures few people in our society would ever be ostracised (Except politicians at the polls). These days most people would be overjoyed to know that 6,000 have made the effort to comment on them!
Consequences of rejection
Reactions to rejection can be grouped using the the ABC Triad:
- Initially – emotional numbness (rather than sadness or anxiety)
- Feelings are based on value of the relationship and clarity of rejection signal
- Undermined self-regulation resulting in impulsiveness, selfishness or aggressive tendencies
- Conflicting social conscious and selfish impulses:
- Less pro-social behaviours: decreased generosity, cooperation, and helpfulness
- Increased deceitfulness: cheating or rule breaking
- Skepticism of new interactions
- Increased attention to interpersonal events
- A range of negative inner states
- Rejection sensitivity – rejection expectancy and hypersensitivity
- Diminished intellectual thought – e.g., decreased reasoning
(These reactions can be reversed with the prospect of social re-integration)
Considering the strong human need to belong it is understandable that prolonged social rejection can result in significant consequences. For example rejection in childhood (e.g., through prolonged bullying or due to individual differences) can led the development of stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecy, loss of self-esteem, depression and social anxiety. Indeed, these issues can snow-ball and social exclusion has been linked to acts such as school shootings perpetrated by students: the ultimate anti-social retaliatory act.
What I found most interesting about this chapter is my need to apply the content to all the relationships I know. Relationships are ignited with passionate love (intense longing or desire), while companionate love (mutual, caring and committed affection) enables a relationship to succeed and survive. The notion of love as either passionate or companionate makes perfect sense to me. As do the disparate trajectories of passion and intimacy throughout a relationship. I also thought it was interesting that these constructs of love exist across cultures and are managed according to cultural norms. Not knowing a lot about arranged marriages, I have often wondered how love is dealt with in such circumstances. I could not imagine what it would be like to be married to someone you did not love (Although I expect there are many people who exist in those relationships and their marriages were not arranged!).
There are various theories of love. Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (1988) is one such theory. This theory proposes that there are three basic elements of love: passion (motivational), commitment (cognitive) and intimacy (emotional). Different combinations of these elements result in differnt forms of love. Ideally love should contain equal measures of all three elements (Consummate Love).
Types of relationships
Exchange Vs communal relationship
(Social Cognitive Perspective) Each type of relationship can be used to serve a purpose in different contexts.
- Based on reciprocity & fairness
- Common in broader society
- Promote progress and wealth in society
- e.g., most work or professional relationships
- Based on love and concern without reciprocity
- Common in intimate interpersonal relationships
- Desirable, healthier, mature
- e.g., relationships with others at home or in families
Attachment and relationships
I have always been interested in the concept of attachment, particularly as I have watched my children grow. Initially it was thought that a childhood attachment style carried through to adult relationships. However, I tend to agree with the more recent opinion suggesting that attachment style is not static as environmental influences can change the way in which a person relates to others.
Neo-Freudians maintain that the type of relationship we develop with others stems from our childhood relationship with our primary caregiver. Bowlby and Ainsworth are well known for the early work in Attachment theory. These theorists maintain that the type of infant attachment to primary caregivers forms the basis of future relationships. (Also see Harlow and Harlow’s monkey experiment). Three attachment styles were identified: secure, anxious/ambivalent or avoidant. Shaver and colleagues extended these concepts to explain the romantic relationships of adults. For example, those with a secure attachment style become close and intimate without fear of abandonment, avoidant individuals maintain a distance from others while anxious/ambivalent individuals are dependent and insecure in their relationships.
More recently attachment has been conceptualised as a two-dimensional construct (rather than one-dimensional continuum). In this approach the interaction between anxiety (attitude toward self) and avoidance (attitude toward others) result in four styles of attachment (avoidant separates into fearful and dismissing avoidant). For example, a person with a fearful-avoidant attachment style would have high anxiety and avoidance, with a low opinion of his/herself, and avoid closeness. Regardless of the type of attachment style the basic human need to belong still exists. As a result those with a secure attachment style fare well, while those with an avoidant style experience significant tension between their need for connection and companionship and their need to maintain distance in their relationships.
People tend to believe their relationships improve (positive illusions), while in reality relationships remain stable or decline. Once a reciprocal pattern of negative behaviours is established this downward spiral results in the relationships demise. Attributions also play a role in relationships: they are enhanced when positive acts are internally attributed and negative acts are externally attributed and break-down when the reverse applies. The Investment Model of Commitment suggests that satisfaction, alternatives and investments determine whether a person stays in a relationship.
A psychologist and mathematician Gottman (see e-reserve Gladwell, 2005) developed a method of predicting whether a couple will stay married by identifying emotional patterns in their interactions. Apparently, a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction is required to maintain a relationship. According to Gottman analysing just three minutes of a couple’s interaction (slices of interactions) can assess this. An interesting part of this article described how individual personality patterns (fists) were derived from Morse code transmissions during the war. Even without the content of the message (what), revealing aspects of who and where could still be determined from the unique transmission of message. Indeed, Gottman was applying this pattern recognition (decoding) to marital relationships. As an aside, similar patterns of a person’s habits (and possibly personality) can be tracked and identified, particularly in this electronic age (e.g., telephone records, EFTPOS transactions, Internet usage, or even e-portfolio contributions!).
According to Diamond (2003) human relationships are based on two separate drives: attachment (love – gender independent) and sex (mating). These can be reinforced or in conflict.
Theories of sexuality include:
- Social constructionist theories – sexual attitudes & behaviour shaped by society/culture
- Evolutionary theory – sex drive innate (shaped by natural selection)
- Social exchange theory – costs and benefits of interaction – sex is a female resource wanted by males
Sex and gender
The textbook addresses four stereotypes about sex and gender.
The following stereotypes are supported:
1. Men want more sex than women
2. Women are gatekeepers, controlling whether,when and how much sex occurs
The following stereotypes are not supported:
3. Men separate love and sex more than women
- Men accept sex without love
- Women accept love without sex
- Both genders find combined love and sex most beneficial
4. Women’s sexuality is attuned to natural forces, men's to culture
- Women's sexuality is more attunded to cultural forces
- i.e., Women have higher erotic plasticity (sex drive shaped by contextual factors) than men