Psychology of human relationships Introduction

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Psychology of human relationships


This social psychology option focuses on human relationships; these relationships may be romantic, friendship, familial, or antagonistic. Humans are social animals, but while we depend upon others for our wellbeing, conflict with others can threaten our survival individually and as social groups.

Key goals of social psychologists are to understand the complexities of relationships, improve interpersonal relationships, promote social responsibility and reduce violence. Psychologists assume that we may actively change our environment and not simply be manipulated by it.

Violence is defined here as a specific aspect of aggression characterized by victimization of another (for example, bullying, domestic violence, genocide). Though much of the research on aggression may be used to understand the basis of violence, the focus of this part of the option is to apply this research to social problems in which violence is often manifested.

One approach to the study of human relationships concentrates on the role of hormones and genetics. However, this gives a limited understanding of how relationships develop. Cognitive theorists have contributed to the understanding of relationships by applying schema theory, whereas social psychologists have focused on attribution theory, social identity theory and the role of culture.

Studying human relationships, however, has its challenges. It is tempting to oversimplify complex social issues or misdirect the blame for problems. When studying human relationships psychologists must also be concerned about the objectivity of the researcher, the right to privacy of the individual and the temptation of social engineering.

Learning outcomes

General framework (applicable to all topics in the option)

  • To what extent do biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors influence human relationships?

  • Evaluate psychological research (that is, theories and/or studies) relevant to the study of human relationships.

Social responsibility

  • Distinguish between altruism and pro-social behavior.

  • Contrast two theories explaining altruism in humans.

  • Using one or more research studies, explain cross-cultural differences in pro-social behavior.

  • Examine factors influencing bystanderism.

Interpersonal relationships

  • Examine biological, psychological and social origins of attraction.

  • Discuss the role of communication in maintaining relationships.

  • Explain the role that culture plays in the formation and maintenance of relationships.

  • Analyze why relationships may change or end.


  • Evaluate sociocultural explanations of the origins of violence.

  • Discuss the relative effectiveness of two strategies for reducing violence.

  • Discuss the effects of short-term and long-term exposure to violence.

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