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Balance Theory has accumulated an impressive record of empirical confirmation at both the micro- and macro-levels. Yet, it is unclear why humans consistently prefer…
Balance Theory has accumulated an impressive record of empirical confirmation at both the micro- and macro-levels. Yet, it is unclear why humans consistently prefer balanced relations when imbalance offers the opportunity to reap material rewards. We argue that balance is preferred because it functions as a “compression heuristic,” allowing networks to be more easily encoded in, and recalled from, memory.
We present the results of a novel randomized laboratory experiment using nearly 300 subjects. We evaluate the independent and joint effects of degree of balance/imbalance and presence/absence of kin compression heuristics on network recall.
We find that memory for relationship valence is more accurate for balanced, rather than imbalanced, networks and that relationship existence and relationship valence are separable cognitive elements. We also use comparisons between kin and non-kin networks to suggest that humans are implicitly aware of the conditions under which imbalanced networks will be most durable.
We show that the tension/strain postulated to generate mental and behavioral responses to increase balance likely stems from cognitive limitations. More broadly, this connects balance theory to models of human cognition and evolution and suggests that human general processing ability may have evolved in response to social, rather than physical, challenges.