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The Filter Theory

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The Filter Theory

When you scroll through Tinder or Bumble, do you swipe left on potential matches 100 miles away or reject them because they do not like the same music as you or have opposing political beliefs?

We all use specific criteria to determine if someone is a good fit. In 1962, Kerckhoff and Davis defined this phenomenon as filter theory. This article will define the filter theory in psychology, evaluate its role in relationships, and draw out some of its criticisms.

The Filter Theory Matches StudySmarterThe filter theory, KG - StudySmarter Originals (Made with Flaticon and Canva images)

What is filter theory?

Kerckhoff and Davis (1962) proposed that people narrow down their selection of potential mates by sending them through a series of filters. These are:

Level 1: Sociodemographic characteristics

Sociodemographic characteristics are the first filter Kerckhoff and Davis theorised and they refer to characteristics such as place of residence, social class, and education level. We are likely to consider these characteristics when we first meet someone. These filters are critical because when people are close and share the same characteristics, they can see each other better and have more in common.

Level 2: Similarity of attitudes

People tend to think those who share their beliefs and values are more attractive. According to Byrne (1997), this filter is essential in the first 18 months. This is related to self-disclosure because usually, these attitudes become apparent through self-disclosure over several dates, further emphasising the importance of self-disclosure.

Level 3: Complementarity

Complementarity refers to each partner possessing qualities or skills that the other lacks to complement each other and help each other meet their needs.

One partner may like to talk and joke around, while the other is quieter and a good listener.

Complementarity is crucial for couples who have been together for more than 18 months.

The Filter Theory Complementarity StudySmarterComplementarity, Flaticon

Evaluation of the filter theory

Finally, we will evaluate the filter theory, examining its strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

Research support: Winch (1957) found that similarity of interests, attitudes, and personality traits is essential at the beginning of a relationship, while complementarity is vital in the long run.Newcomb (1961) studied roommates living together in free housing for one year and found that those with similar backgrounds and attitudes got along best.Gruber-Baldini et al. (1995) conducted a longitudinal study of couples at age 21. They found that those with similar educational backgrounds and ages at the beginning of their relationship were more likely to succeed. This finding supports the sociodemographic filter, with educational level and age being sociodemographic factors.Face validity: sociodemographic characteristics, similar attitudes, and complementarity is something many people intuitively use to filter their potential matches. However, sociodemographic characteristics matter less than they used to because, thanks to the Internet, we may choose to be in a relationship with someone further away. As a society, we have also become more multicultural, so we might enter into a relationship with someone who does not have the same demographic as us.

Weaknesses

What is a short-term or long-term relationship? Some psychologists have struggled to replicate Kerckhoff and Davis' findings because of the controversy over what constitutes a 'long-term' and 'short-term' relationship. By assuming that 18 months is a 'long-term relationship', Kerckhoff and Davis did not consider that some couples may take longer to complement each other.Direction of causality: researchers such as Anderson et al. (2003) have questioned the direction of causality Kerckhoff, and Davis had assumed. They suggest that couples are not similar from the beginning of a relationship but become more similar over time.Similarly, Davis and Rusbult (2001) found that a couple's attitudes converge over time, suggesting that similarity of attitudes is an effect rather than a cause of a relationship.

The Filter Theory - Key takeaways

  • Kerckhoff and Davis (1962) established Filter Theory, which proposes that people narrow down their selection of prospective partners by putting them through a series of filters.

  • The three filters are: sociodemographic factors, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity.

  • Research by Winch (1957), Newcomb (1961), and Gruber-Baldini et al. (1995) supports filter theory.

  • Research by Davis and Rusbult (2001) and Anderson et al. (2003) contradicts it.

  • One strength of the theory is that it has face validity. The theory's weaknesses are the dispute over the length of a long term relationship and the direction of causality, i.e., instead of being similar from the start of a relationship, couples may become more similar as time goes on.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Filter Theory

Kerckhoff and Davis established the Filter Theory in 1962, stating that people narrow down their selection of prospective partners by putting them through a series of filters. 

Kerckhoff and Davis (1962).

Kerchoff and Davis established Filter Theory in 1961, stating that stating that people narrow down their selection of prospective partners by putting them through a series of filters. 

The filter theory explains how relationships are formed.

Sociodemographic characteristics, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity.

Final The Filter Theory Quiz

Question

Who established the filter theory and when?

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Answer

Kerckhoff and Davis (1962).

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Question

What are the three filters of the filter theory?

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Answer

Sociodemographic characteristics, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity. 

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Question

Describe the filter theory.

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Answer

Filter theory states people narrow down their selection of prospective partners by putting them through a series of filters. 

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Question

What two studies suggested that filter theory may not be accurate as similarities and complementarity may result from a relationship?

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Answer

Anderson et al. (2003) and Davis and Rusbult (2001). 

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Question

What results did Gruber-Baldini et al. (1995) find in their study?

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Answer

At the start of their relationships, those with similar educational backgrounds and ages were more likely to succeed.

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Question

What is one advantage of the filter theory?

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Answer

It has face validity, meaning it makes sense in everyday life. 

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Question

What did Newcomb (1961) find?

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Answer

Newcomb (1961) studied roommates who lived in free accommodation for a year and found that those with similar backgrounds and attitudes got along best.

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Question

According to the filter theory, why is the similarity of attitudes important?

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Answer

People tend to think those that share their beliefs and values are more attractive.

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Question

What are two weaknesses of the filter theory?

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Answer

The dispute over the length of a long-term relationship and the direction of causality (instead of being similar from the start of a relationship, couples may become more similar as time goes on). 

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Question

Why may sociodemographic characteristics not be as significant a factor in today's society?

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Answer

Due to the internet, we may choose to have a relationship with someone further away. As a society, we are also more multicultural, so we may have a relationship with someone of a different demographic. 

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