By : Raghad Alach
One does not have to be a social psychologist to infer that relationships across the globe vary in formation, definition and happiness levels.
While studies have found that there are some basic characteristics that all humans look for in future mates, as well as gender specific similarities that are sought after, the differences are much more apparent than the similarities.
There have been a number of studies to determine exactly what these differences are and why they occur.
Culture plays a vital role in the formation of a relationship especially when looking at a relationship based on the importance of love. Studies have also investigated gender variations in relationships across cultures and possible reasons for these differences overall.
An American observing a traditional Indian wedding may be very skeptical especially after finding out that this is only the second or third time the couple has seen each other. Meanwhile, an Indian observing an American wedding may be disapproving of the lack of tradition and predict failure in the future of the couple.
While there exists a basic similarity in intimate relationships all over the world, across cultures there is a perceptible difference placed on the value of love and its importance in relationships which in turn affects the formation of relationships. Moreover the definition of love varies across cultures.
Studies conducted at the end of the twentieth century have found that regardless of culture there are a few common features that humans look for in potential mates. In a study of 37 cultures it was shown that “mutual attraction-love is the most valued mate characteristic” (Buss et. al., 1990, p.18).
This rating was the same for males and females across cultures as were the importance of traits such as dependable character, emotional stability, maturity and pleasing disposition (Buss et. al., 1990).
The 37 nations in this study were from 33 countries on 6 continents and 5 islands and overall they rated kindness, understanding intelligence, and health also as important characteristics for a future mate (Buss et al., 1990). While this study places love as the most important factor, another study for eleven cultures showed that there were strong cultural differences in deeming love as a condition for establishing a marriage (Levine et al., 1995). This drastic difference in results may be accounted for in that the 1990 study has 37 cultures, perhaps many of which were individualistic which would affect the importance placed on love as will be seen later.
At the same time the study conducted in 1995 was more concentrated with equal samples from cultures ranging from individualistic to collectivists and in between. Furthermore, the question in the 1995 study was for establishing a marriage.
So while love may be deemed as the most important characteristic, outside influences in certain cultures may not allow it to be reason enough to establish a marriage. This possible explanation maintains the validity of the results obtained in both studies. Yet another possible explanation for this discrepancy can come from a study conducted between Americans, Germans, and Japanese students.
This study showed that “romantic love was less positively viewed by the Japanese than it was by the Americans and Germans” (Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986, p.331). This brings up the point mentioned by the experimenters that there is a need to differentiate between “passionate” love and “compassionate” love (Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986). The conclusion that may be drawn is that in agreement with Buss et.
Al.’s study, personal characteristics such as similar backgrounds and health are more or less universal determinants for selecting a mate, although the quantitative value associated with these characteristics differs from culture to culture. Love though, because it is not easily defined, can not be generalized as a universal determinant in mate selection.
In an attempt to define love, Landis and O’Shea III conducted a study across nine different sites. The study served to develop six factors each with two poles that determined differences in the definition of love which are: commitment vs. affection, security vs. insecurity, other-centered vs. self-centered, stability vs. instability, affective passion vs. physical passion, and physical affection vs. cognitive affection (Landis, O’Shea III, 2000).
The first purpose of this study, proving love is constructed of multiple factors, was very effective and successfully achieved (Landis, O’Shea III, 2000). However the second goal, showing that each culture will have a unique multifactorial structure associated with it, was not as successful (Landis, O’Shea III, 2000). “While the factors structures are unique, the factors themselves are related to some of the group common factors and are shared with other idealized culture groups” (Landis, O’Shea III, 2000, p.769).
This supports the fact that “even in a…homogenous group there will exist consistent subgroups of subjects who will see the world in fundamentally distinct patterns from each other” (cited in Landis, O’Shea III, 2000, p.759). This study is useful in this discussion because it serves to show that love is complex and can not be easily defined and measured. Moreover it shows the complexity associated with love because even within the same cultures, subgroups may view love differently. This study is supported by other studies that found that “love is given a somewhat different meaning in each country…The more detail added to the measures explicating what attitude and behaviors are entailed within the generalized notion of love or of romance, the more differences we start to find” (Smith and Bond, 1998, p.152).
It has been established that across cultures there is a difference in the definition of love and value placed on it, but there also is a difference in the way the genders view love.
The 1990 study shows that sex differences vary across cultures in the rating of important characteristic in a mate (Buss et. al., 1990). The greatest sexual dimorphism was shown for the Nigerian sample followed by the South African-Zulu sample (Buss et. al., 1990).
Coincidentally these countries were also the ones that practiced polygyny (Buss et. al., 1990). Whereas countries such as Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands had low degrees of sexual dimorphism (Buss et. al., 1990).
The study assimilated that polygyny and the degree of sexual dimorphism are positively correlated (Buss et. al., 1990).
Another reason for this difference may be that when clustered Nigeria fell on the traditional end whereas Sweden, Finland, and Netherlands fell on the more modern end (Buss et. al., 1990). This would make sense because more traditional societies have defined gender roles so that what a male values in a relationship differs greatly from what a females looks for.
In modern cultures however there is more blending of gender defined roles which influences what each gender looks for in a potential mate, and makes it more compatible (Smith and Bond, 1998). Furthermore in this study traditional countries showed a higher deviation from the norm in the value placed on mutual love or values associated with it (Buss et. al., 1990).
Whereas, modern countries showed deviation from the norm in factors such as artistic ability or political similarity (Buss et. al., 1990) which are not necessarily determinant of love.
Another possible explanation for differences in gender may come the study of Vanyperen and Buunk in which they used Hofstede’s classification of cultures as masculine or feminine (Smith and Bond 1998).
Masculine cultures are those in which achievement by men is more highly prized and feminine cultures are characterized by encouraging more equal relationships between men and women (Smith and Bond, 1998, p.154).
Although the Vanyperen and Buunk study found the United States to be a more masculine culture than the Netherlands (Vanyperen and Buunk, 1991), when more traditional countries are compared US may be considered a feministic country such as in the Simons, Vom Kollke, Shimizu study where love was viewed as independent of position and unaffected by female competition in the US (1986).
The masculine vs. feminine model, like the traditional vs. modern model, may help to explain the reasons for the high sexual dimorphism found in countries with the respective models because of the very different nature of roles that males and females occupy within each model.
However there were similarities across cultures in gender differences such as all males value physical appearance more, whereas females value earning potential more.
This was hypothesized to signify female reciprocative value and male capacity for resource provisioning as predicted by evolutionary accounts (Buss et. al., 1990, p.44).
To sum up, this aspect of the study showed that for a relationship there are universal things, which both males and females regardless of culture take into account and look for. It also showed that the greater sexual dimorphism occurs for more traditional or more masculine countries. The effects of polygyny although mentioned by Buss et al. is not addressed in detail.
As has been demonstrated there exist several factors that contribute to differences between love in cultures. Possible reasons for these are individualistic vs. collectivist cultures, industrialization, and political pressures. Levine et. al. hypothesized that the importance of love varies inversely with the strength of extended family ties (Levine et. al., 1995, p.557) In cultures with strong family ties romantic love is viewed as disastrous and must be controlled through social disapproval in order to maintain the strong collective and kinship networks (Levine et. al., 1995).
This hypothesis was proved in the study because the results showed that beliefs about love in collectivist societies were all not very strong for love and moreover this sentiment “cut across age, regional and education levels across nations” (Levine et. al., 1995, p.567).
The study speculated that because of the nature of families in collectivist cultures love is less important because the decision to marry based solely on love affects the entire family (Levine et. al., 1995). Conversely in individualistic cultures only the two people involved are affected and as such feel no guilt for the consequences of their actions be it in the decision to marry for or to separate for the lack of it.
Other factors that may account for differences in cultural views on love is industrialization. In the above study the countries sampled were either economically developed, underdeveloped, or in between (Levine et. al., 1995).
The study found that for developed countries such as the US, Australia and Britain love was important because intereconomic independence was weak (Levine et. al., 1995) . The underdeveloped nations rated love as unimportant and the nations economically developed but in cultural transition, namely Japan and Hong Kong, rated love in between these two groups (Levine et. al., 1995).
An explanation presented by the experimenters was that economic growth pushed a culture toward individualism and away from collectivism. Historically speaking this is supported by the change that followed the Industrial revolution in the US (Levine et. al., 1995). Prior to the Revolution marriages in the United States were arranged in ways to increase ones assets so to speak (Levine et. al., 1995).
But after the Industrial Revolution individualistic values increased and the role of the family decreased (Levine et. al., 1995). Japan and Hong Kong it is further argued are now going through the same transition consequently the values they place on love were moderate compared to love’s high importance for developed nations and love’s low importance for underdeveloped nations (Levine et. al., 1995).
Another study which may be used to explain these cultural differences was one carried out in China which studied the relationship between satisfaction and whether the marriage was arranged or based on choice; the study found that satisfaction for love marriages is generally higher (Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986).
The point of interest from this study though, is the analysis the author provides. For centuries in China arranged marriages were dominant, until 1949 when the new government initiated a change and prompted free marriages(Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986).
This is of interest because unlike previous studies it does not simply present the culture, belief, and tradition differences in a certain area rather it gives possible reasons for these trends, which in this situation is government discouragement of the cultural practice of arranged marriages. Furthermore, it goes on to say that even though only 10% of marriages in China are not arranged, the way in which the two potential mates meet is usually by being introduced to each other by a parent or older kin (Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986).
It also found that there is a negligible dating culture in China (Simmons, Vom Kolke, Shimizu, 1986). This portrait of free marriages is quite different from one that would be seen in European nations for example. Hence this shows that differences in definitions and connotations across cultures exact a need for highly specific and controlled studies when dealing with subjective experiences which love surely is.
In conclusion, research has shown that across cultures characteristics such as kindness and emotional stability (Buss et. al., 1990) are universally important in determining mates. Love on its own though can not be generalized as the main indicator of the formation of a relationship or its contingent success.
Because of culture variations such as gender, different perceptions within a culture, individualistic vs. collectivist cultures, economic differences, and sometimes political pressures love in its different forms can not be the determining factor in the formation of relationships worldwide.
Buss, D.M. et al. 1990. International preferences in selecting mates: A study of 37
cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 21: 5-47.
Landis, D. & O’Shea III, W. 2000. Cross-cultural aspects of passionate love: An
individual differences analysis.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31: 752-775.
Levine, R. et al. 1995. Love and marriage in 11 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural
Psychology, 26: 554-571.
Simmons, C.H. & Com Kolke, A. & Shimizu, H. 1986. Attitudes toward romantic love
among American, German and Japanese students.
Journal of Social Psychology, 126: 327-336.
Smith, P.B. & Bond, M.H. (1998). Social Psychology Across Cultures.
New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Vanyperen, N.W. & Buunk, B.P. 1991. Equity theory and exchange and communal
oreintation from a cross-national perspective.
Journal of Social Psychology, 131: 5-21.