Discuss Research Into the Nature of Relationships in Different Cultures

10 October 2016

Relationships Discuss research into the nature of relationships in different cultures. (9 marks + 16 marks) In Western Cultures, it has been found that relationships are voluntary, temporary and focus on the needs of the individual as due to the predominantly urban settings in which we live in, we are able to (on a daily basis) interact with a large number of people. Western cultures therefore appear to be characterised by a high degree of choice in personal relationships and a greater ‘pool’ of potential relationships.

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Non-western cultures however, have less choice about whom they interact with on a daily basis, meaning that interaction with strangers are rare and relationships are frequently tied to other factors, such as family or economic resources. In societies with reduced mobility, (predominantly non-western cultures) arranged marriages are common as love is expected to grow due to the fact that it is not seen as necessary for marriage.

Arranged marriages seem to work well and make good sense as divorce rates are low and Epstein (2002) found that perhaps about half of them report that they have fallen in love with each other. Myers et al. , (2005) studied individuals in India living in arranged marriages and found no differences in marital satisfaction in comparison to individuals in non-arranged marriages in the US. This is also supported by Gupta and Singh (1982) who studied 100 degree-educated couples living in India, 50 of who had chosen their partners and 50 of who had their marriages arranged for them.

The couples were asked to indicate how much they liked/loved their partners and it was found that love and liking was high in love marriages but decreased whereas love increased in arranged marriages and after 10 years exceeded love marriages. However, this study is difficult to generalise as it studies only a small sample and so cannot be generalised to the wider population. It therefore lacks validity. However, in some adapting cultures such as China, there has been a noticeable increase in ‘love matches’ as the Chinese are currently attempting to move away from traditional ‘arranged’ marriages.

Instances in which parents dominate the process of partner choice in china have declined from 70% prior to 1949, to less than 10% in the 1990s. Xioahe and Whyte (1990) studied women in love marriages and found that they were more satisfied than those in arranged marriages. Western cultures are also seen as individualistic due to their focuses on individuals rather than groups, with individual happiness and pleasure seen as fundamentally important. On the other hand, non-western cultures are seen as collectivist cultures as people are encouraged to be interdependent rather than independent.

Moghaddam et al. (1993) claim that the cultural attitudes of individualist cultures, are consistent with the formation of relationships that are based on freedom of choice, whereas collectivism leads to relationships that may have more to do with the concerns of family or group. Norms and rules act as guidelines for behaviour and influence how we act out any given relationship. One such norm that plays a key part in personal relationships is the norm of reciprocity.

Ting-Toomey (1986) found that in individualist cultures, reciprocity in personal relationships tend to be voluntary. In collectivist cultures however, it is more obligatory. In such cultures, failure to return a favour is seen as a failure of one’s moral duty. In Japanese culture, for example, there are specific rules about gift-giving and reciprocating, whereas n such formal norms exist in Western cultures. Argyle et al. ’s cross-cultural comparison of relationship rules in different cultures did find support for some predictions but failed to support others.

However, a problem with this research is that the list of rules was formulated in the UK and may have failed to include rules that are specific to a particular culture such as Japan. Research on cross-cultural differences in norms and rules is important to be able to conduct cross-cultural relationships successfully. Knowledge of the norms and rules underlying cross-cultural relationships is an important aspect of any attempt to understand and improve relations between different cultural groups within a host country. Finally, relationships are difficult to study scientifically.

Laboratory experiments, through the manipulation of isolated variables, are seen as the most rigorous way of establishing cause and effect, and he best way of furthering our understanding of the processes involved in human relationships. However, as Hogg and Vaughan (2008) point out, people do bring their cultural ‘baggage’ into the laboratory. Although cultural background may be seen as a problematic extraneous variable to some researchers, it is clear that culture itself is an important variable that influences the relationship processes being studied.

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