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Heider’s Balance Theory In Relationship With Examples

Social psychologist Fritz Heider introduced the balance theory. Balance theory is about maintaining peace or harmony between people using balance. For example, if two people are equally invested in a relationship, it can be said that balance is achieved. This balance ensures that two people can co-exist together in peace, without any overwhelming tension.

Now, if one person is more invested in the relationship than the other one, disequilibrium or imbalance occurs. The theory states that people feel uncomfortable when an imbalance occurs. Individuals may try to solve this imbalance by holding back his or her own efforts or feelings in the relationship to ensure more balance.

Situations get more complicated when more than two entities are involved. Suppose there are two people and a specific object involved in a situation.

For example, Sophia likes a particular TV show and her friend dislikes this show. This creates disequilibrium and Sophia feels the need to balance this situation. She might discontinue watching the show or avoid it for some time to reduce her liking, so that she and her friend are on the same page.

Terms of Balance Theory

Triadic Relations: Originally, balance theory was developed to describe the relationships among three individuals or objects. These relationship dynamics were termed as triadic relations. Typically, this relationship includes: the relationship between first person A and second person B, second person B and third person C, and lastly, relationship between first person A and third person C. Here, A and B can have a positive (liking, similarity) or negative relationship (dislike, dissimilarity).

The triad will be balanced if there are no or even number of negative relations. There will be disequilibrium if there are an odd number of negative relations. An example of a balanced triad is Jenna is fond of Ted, Ted likes Pam, and Jenna is also fond of Pam. An imbalanced triad would result if Jenna disliked Pam, Pam likes Ted and Jenna likes Ted.

A simple way to understand triad relations in balance theory is if you have two common friends. If you are fond of these two friends and they are also fond of each other, equilibrium and balance is maintained. If these two friends dislike each other, then an imbalance occurs, and you would probably feel uncomfortable being a mediator in this situation.

Unit Relations: Balance theory has a component called unit relations. When two people or objects belong together or are in an equilibrium, they are said to be in a positive unit relation. This kind of relation can be due to the people’s proximity or closeness, similarity or liking for each other. On the other hand, negative unit relation is characterized by distance, dissimilarity and disconnectedness. Here, two objects or people do not seem to belong together.

Positive sentimental relationships are the unit relations involving people that belong with each other. They might belong to the same gym, class or have a similar liking towards pet animals, or be a part of the same family or friend circle.

For example, Tina and Hetal are in a positive unit relation as they both belong to the same dance club.

Negative sentiment relationships are the unit relations involving people that do not seem to belong with each other. They might be from opposite teams at a football game club, different class members, have different interests or be a part of different families or friend groups.

For example, Hemant supports Manchester United whereas Josh supports Liverpool. Both seem to be dissimilar and hence, in a negative unit relation.

Balanced Situations: Balance theory aims to examine the relationship between two individuals (referred to as P and O) and another person or object (referred to as X). The following situations display balance. These situations are sometimes termed as P-O-X triads.

  • When two people like each other and also like a third person or object, they experience a sense of balance or equilibrium. For example, Jeremy likes Katrine, Katrine likes Jeremy and both like dogs.
  • When two people like each other and dislike a third person or object, they can experience a sense of balance or equilibrium. For example, Cathy likes Serena, Serena likes Cathy and both dislike rainy weather.
  • When two people dislike each other and also dislike a third person or object, they experience a sense of balance or equilibrium. For example, Jeel dislikes Kim, Kim dislikes Jeel and both dislike kittens.

Balance Theory and Attraction

‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ People are attracted to individuals that are like them. This tendency can be explained by balance theory. Balance theory suggests that people tend to organize their cognitive space in a balanced way.

For example, Mona likes to paint. She finds that Jones is also fond of painting. Now, according to balance theory, it is likely that Mona will like Jones due to their similar interests. Her cognitive space will be balanced through this liking. This theory also works if Mona and Jones have a dislike towards the same object.

Applications OF Balance Theory

  • New attitudes can be formed through balance theory, as shown by research studies. When an imbalance occurs in a situation, people feel pressured or influenced to alter their attitudes, resulting in a change of attitude or opinion.
  • Social dynamics can also be understood using balance theory. For example, Katy’s close friend Sarah is friends with Katy’s other friends. She is not friendly with Katy’s enemies due to her loyalty to Katy. These social relationships work in balance.
  • It has also been found that memory is better for balanced relations than for imbalanced ones. People seem to remember balanced patterns like A likes C, B likes C and A likes C better than imbalance relations.
  • Balance theory has led to a lot of research in different fields such as education, marketing, corporate culture, understanding family equations, consumer behaviour, etc.
  • It has been applied to political science and history to understand relations.

Research Evidence

Study by: Chelsea A. Reid and colleagues

Aim: To study balance theory within the context of workplace relationships.


  • Participants had to imagine an ethical dilemma (relationship relevant or non-relationship relevant) and that their supervisor disagreed or agreed with this dilemma. They also had to indicate the degree of job tension they felt here.
  • Job satisfaction and organizational commitment was also assessed.


  • It was found that greater job tension was reported when relationship-relevant ethical dilemma was involved. Dissimilarity with the supervisor led to this unbalanced feeling.
  • This dissimilarity over the dilemma led to less job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
  • It was observed that only relationship-relevant ethical dilemma led to unbalanced feelings. Other dilemmas did not cause these unbalanced feelings.

Benefits Of Balance Theory In Daily Life

1. Mental Evaluation Of Groups And Self-Evaluation (personal) Using Balance Theory

Balance theory can be used to mentally evaluate groups as well as your own self. Groups can be evaluated based on how balanced they seem, in terms of unity and cooperation. For example, a cricket team can be evaluated by seeing them play and noticing teamwork and cooperation between the players.

We can also evaluate our own self, by using balance theory. Some characteristics of our self-form our self-concept. We believe these characteristics to be a part of our personality. By displaying behaviour, consistent with these characteristics, we maintain balance. If we are inconsistent in this context, imbalance occurs. We must then evaluate the situation and regain balance accordingly.

2. Setting New Behavior And New Attitude

Balance theory states that balance occurs when two things or people are in equilibrium. They like the same things or are part of the same group. Imbalance situations refer to contexts wherein people have different preferences or belong to different groups. So, when an imbalance occurs in a situation, people feel pressured or influenced to alter their attitudes, resulting in a change of attitude or opinion. This mechanism can lead to the formation of new behaviours or attitudes.

For example, Kevin and Sarah are good friends. Kevin likes a particular music band. Sarah does not like it. This is an imbalance situation. Kevin tries to introduce the good songs of the band to Sarah, and she reciprocates by trying to listen to some of the songs and ends up liking some of their work. This turns into a balanced situation and Sarah has formed a new attitude towards the band now.

3. How Can Balance Theory Be Applied In The Development Of Personal Interaction With The Environment?

Heider developed balance theory to help people form relationships and social interactions with people in their environment. This theory can help people in maintaining balance in situations and to regain balance if things start to get imbalanced. Balance can be regained in these situations by pointing out inconsistencies to people who have played a part in losing balance and to make them realize the importance of balance.

Personal interactions with others are influenced by the balance theory. For example, when we meet a new classmate or a colleague, we try to maintain the conversation by talking about mutual interests or finding something in common to like or dislike, to maintain the balance. This balance helps us in forming connections and supports social interactions as well as negotiations.

4. How To Attain Harmony In Any Relationship (marriage)

  • Balance theory can be used to maintain harmony in relationships or friendships. Finding mutual interests in music bands or tv shows can help create a sense of balance, promoting equilibrium and stability.
  • Doing similar activities together, such as gardening, or dancing can also promote a sense of balance due to belonging to the same group. This sense of balance further promotes liking.
  • If there is an imbalance due to differences in opinions or attitudes, one person can alter their attitude to regain balance and harmony can be maintained again.
  • The efforts of two people in a bond should be equal most of the time, so that balance continues to remain and hence, harmony is also maintained.
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