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Rusbult's Investment Model

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Rusbult's Investment Model

Have you ever heard an unhappy couple say that they will stay together for the kids? The costs of their relationship greatly outweigh the benefits, but they stay together because they have had children and are now heavily invested. This example represents Rusbult’s investment model of commitment in practice.

What is Rusbult's model of investment?

According to Rusbult (1980, 1983), couples maintain levels of commitment in relationships for three reasons:

  • Satisfaction.

  • Comparison with alternatives.

  • Investment size.

The comparison level of social exchange theory affects satisfaction. It states that people are satisfied when they have more rewards (affection, sex, etc.) than costs (stress, strife, etc.). Comparison with alternatives is based on social exchange theory’s comparison level of alternatives, which states that people who think there are no better alternatives to their current relationship will not end the relationship and vice versa.

However, the most critical factor of Rusbult’s theory is the investment in relationships.

Investment refers to both tangible and intangible investments in a relationship. Tangible investments are quantifiable, physical investments such as money and children, whereas intangible or immaterial investments could refer to happy memories.

Rusbult also divided investments into intrinsic and extrinsic categories. The intrinsic category refers to things we put directly into a relationship, such as money and time. In contrast, extrinsic investments come about as a result of the relationship, such as happy memories and shared friends. Rusbult stated that the bigger the investment, the more likely it is for the couple to stay together.

Broken Heart Rusbult Relationship StudySmarterHeart is broken into two, flaticon.com/freepik

What are maintenance mechanisms?

Rusbult also stated partners use several different mechanisms to maintain relationships.

  • Accommodation: instead of keeping track of costs and rewards, partners accommodate costs to maintain their relationship.

  • Willingness to sacrifice: putting your partners’ needs first, essentially the ability to compromise.

  • Forgiveness: willingness to forgive your partners’ mistakes.

  • Positive illusions: being unrealistically optimistic about your partner.

  • Ridiculing mistakes: negatively viewing possible alternatives.

Couple Investment Love StudySmarterA couple in love facing each other, flaticon.com/Victoruler

What is the research into Rusbult’s investment model?

There are a few prominent studies concerning Rusbult’s Investment Model.

Le and Agnew (2003)

Conducted a meta-analysis of 52 studies with 11,000 total participants and discovered that satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, and investment greatly contributed to commitment. Commitment levels were significantly associated and predicted whether someone would remain in the relationship overall.

Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002)

Over 18 months, Impett, Beals, and Peplau conducted a longitudinal study of 3,627 married couples (husbands aged 17 to 79 years, wives aged 17 to 77 years). They found that there was a strong correlation between stability and commitment. Spouse satisfaction, the investment they put into the relationship, and potential alternatives were predictors of their levels of commitment to the relationship.

Multi-group path analyses indicated that Rusbult's investment model coincided quite well with the data, suggesting that the model has evidence-based research backing it.

Rusbult's Investment Model Romantic Couple StudySmarterRomantic couple, Canva

Rhatigan and Axsom (2006)

Rhatigan and Axsom (2006) studied a group of shelter-based battered women and their reasons for staying with their partners. They were interested in why they decided to stay committed to abusive relationships and investigated it using the parameters set out by Rusbult's investment model.

They found that all three of Rusbult’s factors (satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, and investment) contributed uniquely to part of the women’s decision to stay with their partners and that this relationship satisfaction helped mediate the relationship between psychological (but not physical) abuse and commitment.

Bui, Peplau, and Hill (1996)

Bui, Peplau, and Hill (1996) using multiple regression analyses studied 167 heterosexual couples over 15 years (1972-1987). They found that rewards and costs greatly influenced satisfaction, whilst the availability of alternatives, investment, and satisfaction influenced commitment, supporting Rusbult’s theory. Again, they found that Rusbult's model fits quite well with the data (using path analyses), and associations were similar for men and women.

Rusbult's model predicted the relationship duration in the study.

Evaluation of Rusbult's investment model

For your exam, you must understand the weaknesses and strengths of Rusbult’s investment model.

Weaknesses

Weaknesses include correlational research and reductionistism.

Correlational research

Rusbult’s investment model suggests that investment equals commitment. However, this is simply a correlation as we cannot accurately predict or quantify investment since it differs from person to person. The model is less scientific as a result.

Reductionist

Goodfriend and Agnew (2008) argued that there are few empirical analyses of investments and their predictive power of state and fate of relationships. They suggested that the investment model is oversimplified. Partners may stay in a relationship to see plans realised despite not ‘investing’ in such plans in the present moment.

For instance, someone may stay with their partner to have kids with them. This future investment motivates their relationship, but the investment model fails to acknowledge this.

Strengths

Strengths include research support, self-report techniques, and an explanation for staying in abusive relationships. They also include cross-cultural applications and enrichment of social exchange theory.

Research support

Research from Le and Agnew (2003), Bui, Peplau, & Hill (1996), Rhatigan and Axsom (2006), and Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002) support Rusbult’s model.

Self-report techniques

Although self-report techniques in studies of Rusbult’s model have real-world validity and applications, the nature of this data collection is that they are subjective but unreliable. Therefore, whilst Rusbult’s model is not remarkably scientific, it has many real-world applications.

Explains abusive relationships

Rusbult’s investment model explains why someone would stay in an abusive relationship, showing that it has real-world validity. If someone has invested much in their relationships, such as time, money, or children, they may stay despite the present costs outweighing the benefits.

Research from Rusbult and Maltz supports this explanation. When studying 100 female abuse victims, they found they were more likely to return to their abusive relationship if they felt they had invested a lot into it. This finding shows the real-world applications of the investment model.

Cross-cultural applications

Le and Agnew’s (2003) found in a meta-analysis of 52 studies that the investment model is valid in individualist and collectivist cultures. Associations between commitment and bases vary somewhat depending on demographic factors (such as ethnicity). It has also been proven to explain commitment in different cultural subgroups, such as the LGBTQIA + community.

Expands social exchange theory

The investment model explains why people stay in relationships despite unbalanced rewards and costs, which social exchange theory fails to do.


Rusbult’s Investment Model - Key takeaways

  • Rusbult expanded social exchange theory to explain why people commit to relationships using satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, and investment size.

  • He stated that people invest intangible and tangible resources and intrinsic and extrinsic investments in relationships.

  • The more significant the investment, the more likely a couple will stay together.

  • Research from Le and Agnew (2003), Bui, Peplau, & Hill (1996), Rhatigan and Axsom (2006), and Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002) support Rusbult’s model.

  • The investment model explains why people stay in abusive relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rusbult's Investment Model

It is a theory explaining commitment to relationships, which states that the more someone invests in a relationship, the more committed they will be to it.

It is a theory explaining commitment to relationships, which states that the more someone invests in a relationship, the more committed they will be to it.

Satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, and investment size.

The scales of the investment model are satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, and investment size.

Final Rusbult's Investment Model Quiz

Question

What theory did Rusbult expand using his investment model?

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Answer

Social exchange theory.

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Question

When did Rusbult come up with his investment model?

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Answer

Between 1980 and 1983.

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Question

What are the three factors of commitment according to Rusbult's investment model?

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Answer

Satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, investment size.

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Question

Which factor affecting commitment is the most important?

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Answer

Investment.

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Question

What are the maintenance mechanisms described by Rusbult?

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Answer

Accommodation, willingness to sacrifice, forgiveness, positive illusions, ridiculing alternatives.

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Question

What type of relationship can the investment model explain which other models cannot?

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Answer

Abusive.

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Question

Give an example of investment.

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Answer

Children are an investment in a relationship because not only do parents commit to investing time and money with each other, but they also commit to having a long-lasting relationship with them, whether they stay together as a couple or not.

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Question

Give an example of a tangible investment.

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Answer

Money.

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Question

Give an example of an intangible investment.

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Answer

Happy memories.

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Question

What is an intrinsic investment?

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Answer

An investment that is part of being in a relationship, e.g., investing time.

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What is an extrinsic investment?

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Answer

An investment that comes about as a result of the relationship, e.g., children.

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Question

Which of these are examples of an extrinsic investment?

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Answer

Children.

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Question

Name three studies that support Rusbult's Investment Model.

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Answer

Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002), Rhahgan and Axsom (2006), and Bui, Peplau, and Hill (1996).

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Question

Provide a criticism of the investment model.

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Answer

Much research into the theory has been correlational, meaning that you cannot establish a scientific, cause-and-effect relationship between investment and commitment.

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Question

Provide an argument in support of the investment model 

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Answer

It is cross-cultural, i.e., it can be applied to western and non-western cultures, individualistic and collectivist cultures, as well as subgroups such as the LGBTQIA + community.

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