Sociocultural Factors Influencing Human Relationships

7 July 2016

?To what extent do sociocultural factors influence human relationships? Human relationships are complex and consist of many stages, such as attraction, formation and maintenance, and possibly ending. There are also different types of relationships, such as romantic relationships, friendships or relationships between kin. Many possible factors exist that can affect relationships, one of them being culture. Culture is hard to define, but it could be defined as a system of values that a group of people have in common.

In the original cross cultural study of mate selection, Buss found that physical attractiveness is more important to men all over the world and that financial resources are more important to women – gender differences which appeared to be universal. However, culture had a powerful impact on some aspects of mate preferences. Chastity was the greatest factor that was affected by culture. In Scandinavian countries, in the Netherlands and West Germany, chastity was seen as irrelevant.

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However, in China, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Palestinian Arab, a great importance was placed on chastity in a potential mate.

This shows that there are differences between cultures when it comes to attraction to a certain mate. However, Levine and Kito investigated cultural differences in the formation and maintenance of relationships. Levine investigated the importance of love in marriage, and Kito examined the importance of self-disclosure in relationships. Even though romantic love is an aspect that seems to be universal around the different cultures of the world, the importance of love for marriage is not seen as universally accepted.

In many world cultures, marriage is arranged by family members and romantic love in these cultures is seen as irrelevant for marriages. Levine et al. conducted a study with the aim of examining the cross-cultural generality of the importance placed on romantic love in marriage decisions and to identify predictors and consequences of these differences. The participants in the study were 497 male and 673 female students of liberal arts in cities from 11 countries which were: India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mexico, United States (California), England, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Philippines and Hong Kong.

The participants were asked three questions about their beliefs about the importance of love in marriage. Collectivism/individualism, the economic status (GDP) and the fertility, marriage and divorce rates of the countries were also examined. Individualist cultures emphasize self-interest and the interest of one’s immediate family, independence, initiative and achievement whilst collectivist countries emphasize the loyalty to the group, interdependence and the belief that group decisions are more important than individual ones.

The results from the study showed that individualist countries were much more likely to rate love as essential for the establishment of a marriage and to agree that the disappearance of love is a sufficient reason to end a marriage. Also, countries with larger GDP showed the same tendency. Furthermore, the countries assigning greater importance to romantic love for the establishment of marriage had higher marriage rates, but also lower fertility rates and higher divorce rates. These divorce rates were highly correlated with the belief that the disappearance of love warranted the dissolution of marriage.

In the Western nations and individualistic countries the importance of love was very big, and because of this, marriages dissolved easier as well because as soon as the love was gone, it was acceptable to get divorced. Another sociocultural aspect of human relationships is self-disclosure, which refers to how willing people are to discuss information related to themselves with other people. Here again, whether the cultures are individualistic and collectivistic show different concepts of self.

Individualistic cultures foster an independent view of self and collectivistic cultures foster an interdependent view of self. People with an independent view of self may have a stronger need to express their uniqueness, while those with an interdependent view may need to restrain their uniqueness. A study by Kito was designed to investigate different aspects of self-disclosure, the main one being the differences in self-disclosure between Japanese (collectivistic culture) and American (individualistic culture) students.

Kito used 145 college students, and they had to answer questions about friendships and romantic relationships, and were supposed to think about someone they were in love with at the time or someone they had once loved when answering the questions about the romantic relationships. The results showed that American students scored higher on self-disclosure on not only romantic relationships, but also friendships. This shows that depending on whether the culture that people belong to is collectivistic or individualistic, affects the degree of self-disclosure.

This in turn affects the formation and the maintenance of relationships, because with the theory of self-disclosure, relationships form with self-disclosure, and the more you disclose the closer and better maintained the relationship is. Both of these studies only use students, which means that there was sampling bias and that the results cannot be generalized to all ages of the population. Levine et al. liberal arts students. Also, they use questionnaires, which limit the reliability of the results because there is a possibility that be participants are not answering them truthfully, raising the likelihood of biased results.

Moreover, the results only show a correlation, and no cause and effect relationship can be established. The Levine et al. study not only uses two differing cultures, but compared 11 different cultures, making it more cross-cultural. This gives the conclusion that in Western countries and individualistic countries, the importance of love in marriage was very big, a higher credibility than the conclusion of the Kito study, where only two cultures were compared before it was concluded that individualistic cultures have a higher degree of self-disclosure.

However, in the Levine et al. study, only the relationship of marriage was looked in to, whilst in the Kito study it was not only romantic relationships that were studied, but also friendships. This makes the results from the Kito study more useful. In conclusion, it is seen that even though some aspects of human relationships are seen as being universal, culture has a relatively large impact on human relationships.

Individualistic cultures perceive the presence of love as being necessary in a marriage, while collectivistic cultures do not value the presence of love in a marriage as highly. Individualistic cultures also have a higher level of self-disclosure, so people from such a culture are more likely to reveal more about their self to the other person in the relationship. This illustrates that sociocultural factors such as whether a culture is individualistic or collectivistic extensively influence the relationships of the people within the cultures.

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