What "Love Island" can teach young people about commitment

In fact, "Love Island" is a perfect illustration of the investment model of relationships

Published July 4, 2022 9:00AM (EDT)

Indyah and Ikenna on "Love Island" (ITV / Hulu)
Indyah and Ikenna on "Love Island" (ITV / Hulu)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

It's summer in the UK, which means that millions of viewers are piling onto their sofas every night to watch how the gaggle of "hot young tings" from the four corners of the UK (and Ireland) are getting on – or who they're getting with . . .

It is easy to dismiss Love Island as just another frivolous reality TV show featuring horny, conventionally attractive young adults looking for fame and some fun along the way. But beneath the fake tans, and cringey banter, Love Island can actually help us understand the forces that push people together and help maintain commitment in long-term (off-camera) relationships.

In fact, "Love Island" is a perfect illustration of the investment model of relationships. This model helps explain whether people are going to "stick or twist" in their relationship (i.e. stay committed or move on to greener pastures).

According to investment model of relationships, our commitment and desire to persist in our relationships is influenced by three distinct pieces of information:

  1. Our quality of alternatives (aka whether anyone's head is turning)

  2. Our investments in the relationship (aka how many eggs you're putting into one basket)

  3. Our satisfaction with the relationship (aka whether you are happy cracking on)

According to this model, we are more likely to be committed to our current partner when our investments and satisfaction are high and our quality of alternatives are low.

The day-to-day toss-ups and surprises on the show allow us to watch in real-time how each of these three predictors of commitment can fluctuate and interact with each other to decide who couples up, recouples and ultimately, who gets dumped from the island. It's the experiment no psychologist will ever get permission to run. So, let's break it down with some examples courteously of the 2022 Islanders.

Is your head turning?

A lack of quality alternatives is sometimes referred to as the "having no option but for the relationship to persist."

Quality alternatives are anything that can help us satisfy our needs outside of our relationship with our partner. This could include time spent with the family and friends who support us, hobbies that make us feel accomplished and happy, and romantic alternatives.

As quality alternatives go up, commitment starts to go down. It is the last type of alternative – alternative romantic partners — that most people in monogamous relationships (or who want to be in a monogamous relationship) are often most worried about and which take centre stage in Love Island. From new "bombshells" to strange challenges, Love Island constantly tries to increase the availability of alternatives, often to shake things up and undermine any attachments people might be forming.

On this series, the love triangle between Ekin-Su, Davide and Jay is a great example of how attractive alternatives can shake things up. Before Jay arrived in the villa, Ekin-Su and Davide seemed to have a really intense connection. As soon as Jay enters the villa, however, Ekin-Su's head starts turning leading to a total breakdown in her and Davide's connection. She quickly gives into temptation.

We might meet alternatives in unsuspecting places in our real lives: at work, at the gym, at school, at the pub. And these people pose just as much of a threat to our relationships in real life as they do on Love Island.

But luckily, commitment isn't determined by quality alternatives alone.

Putting your eggs in one basket

The size of the investments we make in our relationships is often referred to as the "need for the relationship to persist" because of what is lost when that relationship ends. These investments include mutual friends, blended families, family pets, shared living spaces, and even just the time spent on that one person.

The more investments we put into a relationship, the more losses we incur by breaking up with that partner. This can help explain both why people might be hesitant to put too much time and energy into one potential partner to avoid investing resources that could get lost.

For example, Davide claims that he didn't want to put too much time and energy into Ekin-Su right away because he was afraid of getting hurt. On the flip side, investments can help explain why some people might stay despite a lack of fireworks. Another contestant, Indyah, recently saved Ikenna over Remi. Indyah had invested time and energy into getting to know Ikenna. By contrast, she invested very little time and energy into her connection with Remi, and sending him home didn't risk her upsetting the mutual friends she shared with Ikenna.

So even when our quality of alternatives are high, our invested resources can help us understand why we might choose to stay even when we're maybe not getting as much out of the relationship as we could.

Happy cracking on and seeing where it goes

Satisfaction is one of the strongest predictors of commitment and captures how happy we are in our relationship. We are satisfied with a partner when we experience more positive than negative interactions with them, and our connection meets or exceeds our expectations.

Satisfaction is important because it can also help us to discount or play down the availability of quality of alternatives. For example, Luca recently demonstrated this protective power when he told Gemma he didn't enjoy talking to Danica as much as he enjoys talking to her, and has no desire to see where that relationship might go despite Danica being interested enough in Luca to break up a coupling.

Once again, even when quality of alternatives are high, or our investments are low (like a two-week-old relationship), our satisfaction with our current partner can help us keep us focused on them and see the positives rather than the appeal of others.

By Veronica Lamarche

Senior Lecturer of Psychology, University of Essex

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Investment Model Love Island Reality Show Relationship The Conversation