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1. Critically assess research into cultural variations in relationships [25] Within psychology, there has been much research into the formation,dissolution and benefits…
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  • 1. Critically assess research into cultural variations in relationships [25] Within psychology, there has been much research into the formation,dissolution and benefits of relationships. However, the majority of research hasbeen done in western societies, such as Europe and the USA, where the focus hasbeen on voluntary romantic relationships. However, globally, suchrelationships are by no means the dominant type. Data and theories fromwestern studies may not necessarily be applied cross culturally. Therefore, it isimportant to investigate other cultures, to seek both similarities anddifferences in romantic relationships. Hofstede (1984) drew a distinction between individualistic cultures,where the emphasis is on self-interest and independence, and collectivistcultures where the importance of interdependence and doing what is best for thegroup is stressed. Typically, Western nations are individualistic, whereasEastern cultures tend to be more collectivist. Evidence suggests that there may be important differences betweenindividualistic and collectivist cultures in terms of the importance ofromantic love. Shaver, Wu and Schwartz (1991) studied the differences inattitudes towards romantic love in different cultures. Whereas inindividualistic cultures, romantic love is seen as vital ingredient for a happyrelationship, in China, romantic love is associated with pain, sorrow andunfulfilled affection. The western notion that marriage should be based onromantic love is seen as unrealistically optimistic by Chinese people. This linkbetween individualism and the importance of romantic love is supported byLevine (1995) who found a correlation of +0.56 between a culture’sindividualism and the perceived necessity of love for the establishment ofmarriage. In other words, the more individualistic the country, the moreimportant love was perceived. These results may be due to the fact thatarranged marriages are more common in collectivist cultures and so love is seenas less important than social status or family compatibility. Both Shaver et al (1991) and Levine (1995) seem to suggest that there isno universal view of love, and your perception of love can be shaped to anextent by your culture. This is an important factor for relationshippsychologists to take into account when carrying out research. It suggests thatresearch which takes place in an individualistic culture may not necessarily
  • 2. be generalisable to collectivist cultures and vice versa, particularly if thedominant type of relationship in a culture is non-voluntary. However, itshould be taken into account that this research is about 20 years old. Increasedglobalisation and the advent of the internet might mean thatwestern/individualistic notions of love become more common ineastern/collectivist cultures. It would be easy to take an ethnocentric standpoint, and argue that theindividualistic concept of romantic love is better, and that marriages based onfree choice are happier and longer lasting than arranged/involuntarymarriages. However, the research does not support this. Yelsma and Athappily(1988) found that there was no discernible difference in happiness levelsbetween arranged and non-arranged Indian and American marriages. Guptaand Singh (1982) similarly found that while levels of love in arrangedmarriages started off significantly lower than levels of love in non-arrangedmarriages, by 10 years of marriage, levels of love were about the same; love haddropped in the non-arranged marriages, and climbed in the arrangedmarriages. Anecdotally, it has often been stated that arranged marriages arehappier, because the divorce rates for these types of relationship are muchlower. Both of these studies suggest that there are more similarities thandifferences in arranged and non-arranged marriages. However, there are somemethodological issues with both pieces of research. Firstly, the research dependsupon the quantitative measuring of both love and happiness. Such measuresmay lack validity, as these concepts may elude measurement, and the termslove and happiness may mean different things to different people. Anotherissue is with social desirability. There may be social pressure to over-emphasisethe happiness and love in a marriage, particularly in arranged marriages.This could also explain why arranged marriages have a low divorce rate, associal exclusion may act as a large barrier to leaving (Levinger 1976).Thirdly, both studies depend upon self-report measures. An individual may notnecessarily have sufficient insight into how happy or in love they are.Similarly, love and happiness may not be static, and may fluctuate overtime. Much of the research into cross cultural variations into relationships ishampered by a number of issues. Much of cross cultural research is time-
  • 3. sensitive. Social changes such as the internet mentioned above may be havinga great effect on people, allowing individuals to be exposed to other ways of life,leading to cross cultural “contamination”. Research carried out 20 years agomay already be out of date. Even within our own western culture, attitudestowards sex, sexuality and relationships have altered drastically within thelast few decades. A lot of cross cultural research has focused on the differences betweenindividualistic and collectivist cultures. However it has been argued thatsuch a distinction is artificial, and that some cultures can have elements ofboth. In so called individualistic cultures for example, there can still be socialpressure which influences choice of marriage partner. It is easy to accept that there are great differences between cultures, butit is often overlooked that there are many more variations within a culture.This is an issue when choosing a sample for a cross cultural study, as youcannot be certain that your sample is representative of the whole culture. Forexample, Buss (1989) carried out a famous piece of cross cultural researchwhich suggested that there are universal standards of attractiveness, and thatmate selection is determined not by culture, but by evolutionary pressures.While Buss’s research took place in dozens of different cultures, the samplesizes were often small, and unlikely to be representative of the entire culture.This raises the question of the use of carrying out any sort of cross culturalresearch into relationships. However, while cross cultural research may be hampered bymethodological issues, it is important to investigate the similarities anddifferences between how relationships are carried out in other cultures. Doing sonot only allows us to look for universals of human behaviour, which maypoint to an evolutionary or biological cause, but also allow us to look fordifferences which allow us to gain more of an insight into the role our ownculture has on shaping our romantic relationships. [1052 words]
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