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Example Answers for Relationships: A Level Psychology, Paper 3, June 2019 (AQA)


Last updated 16 Dec 2019

Here are some example answers to the two Paper 3 questions on Relationships in the 2019 AQA exams.

Question 5

Sexual selection is an evolutionary explanation for partner preference that suggests that certain traits increase chances of reproductive success, meaning those who show these traits are more likely to survive and pass on the genes responsible. Inter-sexual selection is where certain traits (e.g. signs of strength in a male) increase attractiveness and lead members of the opposite sex to want to mate with them. Females are seen to be more ‘choosy’ because they have a limited number of eggs and invest more. Intra-sexual selection is where certain traits (e.g males being strong) allow the individual to compete with member of the same sex for access to mates.

Evidence to support the idea that females are more ‘choosy’ comes from Clark and Hatfield (1989) who found that 74% of males responded to a request made by a female student to go to bed with them, whereas 0% of females did. This suggests that males focus on quantity rather than quality of partners.

Evidence to support males and females having different partner preferences, comes from Buss (1989) who found in a survey of over 10,000 adults in 33 countries that females valued resource related characteristics such as financial prospects, whereas males valued reproductive capacity such as good looks and being younger. This suggests that partner preferences are related to ability to reproduce and pass on genes, rather than cultural factors.

However, there are problems with the theory of sexual selection as it is more difficult to apply to non-heterosexual relationships or relationships where partners do not want children. It is also unable to explain the way that social norms of sexual behaviour have changed rapidly, which is largely due to availability of contraception and women becoming more educated and playing a greater role in the work-place.

Question 6

Social exchange theory (SET) is an economic model of relationships that says that people in a romantic relationship try to minimise costs and maximise gains or rewards. Examples of rewards are companionship, sex and emotional support, whereas examples of costs are time and energy. Thibault and Kelly say that we judge our relationships in terms of profit, if the rewards are greater than the losses we are satisfied.

They also suggest there are two ways that we measure the profit in a relationship. The first is the comparison level, which is the amount of reward a person feels they deserve, based on previous relationships and social norms. It is also linked to self-esteem, as someone with low self-esteem will tend to be satisfied with less profit from a relationship. The second is comparison level for alternatives, which is where we consider whether we could receive greater profit in an alternative relationship. If so then we might end our current relationship.

There is some evidence to support SET. For example, Sprecher (2001) found that comparison Levels for alternatives were a strong predictor of commitment in a relationship and that rewards were important as a predictor of satisfaction, especially for women. However, Argye argues that we don’t constantly measure costs and rewards in a relationship or consider the attractiveness of alternatives. This only begins to happen once we are already dissatisfied, as shown in research by Miller (1997) where people who rated themselves as being highly committed to their relationship spent less time looking at attractive people. This suggests that SET may be wrong to suggest that believing the costs are greater than the rewards causes relationship dissatisfaction and attraction to alternatives.

SET can account for individual differences in attraction as different people will perceive certain costs and rewards differently. However, the key concepts of SET are very difficult to define and measure. For example, one person may find lots of praise from a partner rewarding, but another person could find it annoying. In addition, it is not clear how much more attractive alternatives should become, or by how much costs should outweigh the rewards, for the person to start feeling dissatisfied with their current relationship.

SET has also been criticised for being based on faulty assumptions and portraying humans as selfish. Clark and Mills argue that it fails to distinguish between exchange relationships (often between work colleagues) that do involve social exchange, and communal relationships (such as between romantic partners) where rewards are given and received without keeping score. SET also fails to focus on equity or fairness, which has been argued to be more important than profit.

However, SET does have some real-life applications. For example it forms the basis of Integrated Behavioural Couples Therapy (IBCT), where partners are trained to increase the proportion of positive exchanges in their everyday interactions and decrease the proportion of negative ones. Research has found that about two-thirds of couples that were treated using IBCT reported that their relationships had significantly improved and they were feeling much happier as a result of it, demonstrating that SET can be used to help couples in real life.

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