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Key Words:

attitude, change, interpersonal, balance, relations

Background / Metatheory:

We like it when we agree with our friends’ opinions, especially when it comes to how we feel about particular other people. This is the source of the expressions “My friend’s friend is my friend; my friend’s enemy is my enemy.” On the other hand, sometimes we like a person whom we later discover is disliked by one or more of our friends. And sometimes we dislike someone that a close friend turns out to like very much. Such realizations create in us a certain sense of discomfort, and when possible, we’ll probably do what we can to change this situation. Balance theory, an early theory from social psychology, can apply to such situations of "imbalance" and predict how balance will be restored.

Reference: Heider, Fritz (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. John Wiley & Sons.

Heider, F. (1946). Attitudes and cognitive organization. Journal of Psychology, 21, 107-112.

Terms & Definitions:

  • entity - person or object
  • signed - positive or negative
  • situation - all entities and ties
  • unit tie - signed association (+) or dissociation (-) of two entities
  • attitude - signed evaluation of an entity
  • balance - zero or even number of negative unit ties or sentiment ties
  • change - alter unit ties or sentiment ties
  • imbalance - odd number of negative unit ties or sentiment ties
  • sentiment tie - attitude toward an entity

Scope Conditions:

  1. at least two entities
  2. at least one person
  3. every element has a sentiment tie or unit tie to every other element
  4. "person" is any person in the situation

Propositions:

  1. If balance, then person has no discomfort.
  2. If person has no discomfort, then person has no motive to change the situation.
  3. If imbalance, then person has discomfort.
  4. If person has discomfort, then person has motive to change the situation.
  5. If person has motive to change the situation, then person seeks balance.
  6. If person seeks balance, then person changes one or more of their own sentiment ties or unit ties, or seek to change others’ sentiment ties or unit ties.
  7. If person seeks balance, then person seeks least effortful change.

Derivations:

  1. If balance, then no motive to change the situation.
  2. If imbalance, then person seeks balance.
  3. If imbalance, then person changes one or more of their own sentiment ties or unit ties, or seek to change others’ sentiment ties or unit ties.
  4. If imbalance, then person seeks least effortful change.

Evidence:

Fuller, Carol H. 1974. Comparison of two experimental paradigms as tests of Heider's balance theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 30(6), Dec 1974, 802-806. Aronson, E., & Cope, V. (1968). My enemy's enemy is my friend. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 8-12. Pilialoha, B. R.U., & Brewer, M. B. (2006). Motivated Entitativivity: Applying Balance theory to group perception. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9, 235-247.
Title: 3-element Balance Theory
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