Claim: Interpersonal relationships aren’t the same in every culture.
The topic of interpersonal attraction and its similarities and differences across cultures is often debated about. The question of whether culture affects relationships, especially romantic ones has often had many stereotypes surrounding it. This shows that many people believe that interpersonal relationships are different across cultures, which is what this essay will discuss.
Interpersonal relationships are defined as the social connections or affiliations, whether it be romantic or platonic, between two people (Oxford University Press, 2011). In psychology, interpersonal relationships are influenced by 6 main things:
- Physical Attractiveness
- Psychological attractiveness and the reciprocity principle
- Biosocial explanations
The investigation is exploring the effect of culture on interpersonal relationships rather than the reasons for those relationships occurring. For this reason, the investigation will mainly focus on the aspects of interpersonal attraction that would be affected by people coming from different cultures. Interpersonal relationships and a person’s cultural background affecting that relationship were chosen to be researched due to the rapid change in relationships worldwide. For example, a recent statistic showed a trend in people in East Asian cultures to view the emotional investment as a less important factor in relationships (Sternberg and Weis, 2006). Also, divorce rates in Australia alone have actually decreased to 38% in 2018 compared to 51% in 2001 (ABS, 2018).
Interpersonal relationships can include both romantic and platonic relationships. In order to narrow the investigation, the type of relationship that will be investigated is romantic. Also, seeing as exploring relationships across all cultures would be too difficult, as it is too broad a spectrum, the investigation will focus on Asia specifically. Asian culture was chosen as it has a long history of arranged marriage and other marital rituals but, in recent times, many of those traditions have become less common. To summarise, the claim that Interpersonal relationships aren’t the same in every culture was chosen because of the changing perception of relationships within cultures throughout the world.
Do Asian cultures view interpersonal attraction in couples as a valuable factor in relationships?
Multiple sources have been researched and collected to help gather evidence on the research question.
An article by Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau was written on a study conducted involving the cross-cultural psychology of support seeking (mutual and non-mutual). This research helps establish any cultural differences between the social norms surrounding support seeking in Asia compared to other cultures. This is relevant to this paper as it can show any foundational differences socially in Asia. These broad differences can then be branched off into more specific avenues, such as their views on how valuable interpersonal attraction is in a relationship.
Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau’s experiment comprised 41 non-migrant (3rd generation or later) European Americans (EA) as well as 41 migrants (1st or 2nd generation) Asian Americans (AA). The experimental design they used was independent groups. Participants were first asked to complete a baseline measure of mood and afterward, they were asked to complete a 3-minute period dedicated to the preparation of a speech.
After the preparation period, one of two writing conditions — mutual support or non-mutual support — was randomly allocated to respondents. In both conditions, the respondents were asked to complete 2 separate writing tasks.
Participants, in the non-mutual support condition, were specifically told to write 2 separate letters to someone they had received help or support from in the past.
In the situation of the mutual support condition, respondents were specifically advised to write 2 separate letters to someone they had previously given assistance or support.
Afterward, in a space with a video camera and two confederate judges (1 male, 1 female), the speeches were given under evaluative circumstances. The post-challenge mood test (PANAS) was completed immediately afterward. As seen in figure 1 (Huang, W.J, 2005), all participants experienced some sort of the change in their negative mood. The AA group showed a greater increase in their negative mood when asked to write letters to someone they had received help or support from in the past. However, the EA group had a greater increase in the negative mood when asked to write letters to someone they had given help or support to in the past. Overall, the AA group had bigger rises in their negative mood in both mutual and non-mutual circumstances.
Figure 3 shows the coded ratings of anxious behavior during the speech assignment that were used as a measure of behavioral distress. Asian Americans scored marginally greater on observed anxious behaviors (M= 2.73, SD= 0.90) than European Americans (M= 2.38, SD= 0.98). Also, there was a significant correlation between behavioral distress and cortisol reactivity (Figure 2), p= 0.009, and a marginal correlation to negative mood shifts (Figure 1), p= 0.059. The findings also showed who the individual decided to write to, in the AA group 17% wrote to a parent, 78% wrote to a peer, and 5% wrote to a significant non-parental figure. Participants in the EA group wrote to a parent 52.5% of the time and wrote to a peer 47.5% of the time.
A limitation of this data is the various sub-groups of people in the Asian American group. This may mean that some people may have different beliefs and cultural/religious backgrounds. The small sample size of this investigation is also an issue as the results, as while some are significant, may not reflect the population. A possible future avenue of investigation is how mutual and non-mutual support expectations influence real support interactions for distinct cultural communities.
This research paper by Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau showed how Asian Americans experienced higher levels of stress after seeking non-mutual support compared to European Americans who had higher stress levels after seeking mutual support. This may indicate that Asian Americans would rather seek support from somebody they have helped in the past rather than seek support from someone they have already had support from in the past. Overall, this research paper was able to show insight into some basic differences between cultures and provided reliable (statistically significant) evidence to support its claims.
Further research on the topic of interpersonal attraction in Asian couples was done by Wei-Jen Huang in 2005. His research paper titled, ‘An Asian Perspective on Relationship and Marriage Education’ explored trends in marriage in Asia. He based most of his claims on his prior experiences working with Asian populations but occasionally refers to data collected by other researchers. The author's aim was to shed light on the developments in the Asian perspective on marriage. This source is relevant to the investigation as it details the recent development in marriage in Asia and trends relating to that. The data showed that across 6 of the 7 counties, the divorce rate increased from 1998 to 2002. The data was collected from various countries' national departments of statistics which were gathered from nationwide polls. The anomaly in the data was Malaysia, their divorce rates increased from 7.00:1 to 8.34:1. The country with the highest divorce rates in 2002 was S.Korea (2.11:1) and the country with the lowest divorce rates was India (63.87:1). These differences may be due to different divorce laws in each county. Wei-Jen Huang gave several reasons for why there may have been an increase in divorces in Asia. The main factor in an increase in divorce rates in Asia, as outlined by Wei-Jen Huang, is the “loosening of social control over marriage”. In the past, Asia had a reputation for arranged marriages and social pressure when it came to marriage. Families and hierarchy also had a lot to do with why people in Asia married in the past, as traditional marriages were used to unite families, not to unite two individuals. So, the loosening of social influences in now allowing couples more freedom in their relationships and the ability to marry for love. To relate this back to table 1, the rising divorce rates in Asia (1998 M = 15.69:1, 2002 M = 12.87:1) may be due to many of the traditional ways of thinking about marriage being broken down.
The limitation of this research is that the researcher did not back up all his claims with data/evidence and mainly drew on his personal experiences to assert his claims. Also, some broad claims may be inaccurate as they don’t relate to specific populations (fallacy of composition). In the future, a research study could explore the validity of each claim made in this paper and how divorce rates are affected by familial obligations.
Thus, based on the claims made in the paper, it could be concluded that the rise in divorce rates in Asia is due to the increase in individuality and freedom when it comes to marriage. Nevertheless, the lack of evidence and research backing the claims made, makes the assertions made in the article less credible.
Finally, Jayamala Madathil and James M. Benshoff (2008) conducted a study on the “Importance of Marital Characteristics and Marital Satisfaction: A Comparison of Asian Indians in Arranged Marriages and Americans in Marriages of Choice”. Seeing as India consists of 32% of Asia’s population, they were the subject being investigated alongside the United States. Participants consisted of 229 Indians in arranged marriages living in the United States (AI-US), 185 Indians in arranged marriages living in India (AI-India), and 173 Americans in marriages of choice living in the United States (US-Choice). The purposive sampling technique was used, and the independent measures design was used for the survey. The characteristics of relationships scored were: Loving, Loyalty, Shared values, and Finance. The characteristics were graded into two separate categories, importance, and satisfaction.
Participants were first asked to rate the importance of each factor in their relationships and then their satisfaction with that factor. Respondents were given a 6-point Likert-type gauge, ranging from extremely unimportant to extremely important to rate each factor (Jayamala M & James B, 2008). There were no significant differences between genders for both the AI-India and AI-US communities, although in the US-Choice community there was a significant difference (p = .004) between genders.
AI-US respondents scored significantly greater for the Importance–Loving subcategory than those in both the AI-India and US-Choice sets. US-Choice scores for Importance – Shared Values were significantly smaller than those of the other two groups. For the sub-scale of Importance – Finance, the US-Choice group scored less than the other groups. For the Importance – loving sub-scale, the AI-US scored significantly higher than the other groups.
Compared to the AI-India (M = 110.9) and US-Choice groups (M = 105.5), satisfaction scores on all sub-scales were considerably greater for the AI-US group (M = 103.8). This seems to imply that the general satisfaction of AI-US (p = 0.015) respondents with their marriages were significantly greater.
There are several limitations to be regarded in this research. Firstly, only one measure of marriage satisfaction was considered when gathering these results. Secondly, the sample was restricted to Indian couples in arranged marriages and American couples in marriages of choice and did not include Indians in marriages of choice.
The results showed AI-US group had the highest levels of marital satisfaction among the three groups, implying that Indian couples in arranged marriages living in the United States are happier. The results also indicate that people in the AI-India (.2) group value financial stability the most and people in the AI-US (.3) group and the US-Choice (.1) group value loyalty the most.
Future studies may include investigating Indians in marriages of choice as a distinct group of respondents. Another area for future studies would be to examine more carefully the impact of family members on individuals when it comes to marriage.
Since most of the results found in this study were statistically significant (AI-US p
The research from Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau correlates with the claim that Wei-Jen Huang made on the fact that there has been a decrease in Asia in the role family plays in decision-making. The study done by Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau also correlates with the research done by Jayamala Madathil and James M. Benshoff as they both found that their group from Asia felt that the culture of sharing was important. Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau’s experiment found that the AA group felt better after asking for support from someone they had given support to in the past (mutual–sharing support) and Jayamala Madathil and James M. Benshoff found that shared value was the second most important value in both the AI-US and AI-India groups. However, the claim made by Wei-Jen Huang that there was an increase in people in Asia marrying for love and a decrease in arranged marriages contradicts the research done by Jayamala Madathil and James M. Benshoff. This is due to the fact that Jayamala Madathil and James M. Benshoff’s experiment focused on arranged marriages in Asia and found that loving was the third most important factor in the AI-US and AI-India groups.
The findings from all three research papers suggest there need to be further inquiries into the cultural difference in the value of relationships aspect. Nevertheless, the evidence from those studies suggests that there is a difference in how Asian cultures view interpersonal attraction within relationships.
The pertinence of the method used, the thoroughness used in controlling the variables, and the parameters under which the data was intended to be applied will be discussed in order to determine the quality of the evidence. There will also be suggestions for improvements and extensions to the studies.
First of all, the methods used for collecting data from all 3 studies were fallible, as in most instances they relied on questionnaires (surveys) or data collected from other studies. Only Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau were efficient in creating their methodology. An improvement to this is that the researchers could conduct their studies by using a manufactured setting and see how participants react or their decisions.
Second, researchers' methodologies did not screen for possible confounding participant factors and as such did not regulate them. For example, any behavioral disorders, parents' background, or past experiences in relationships. The only study that did this most effectively was conducted by Shu-wen Wang and Anna S. Lau. A suggested improvement would be to get participants to fill out a pre-test questionnaire to outline any factors that may affect the results. These results would help increase the test's significance and reliability.
Finally, the results may be unable to be extrapolated to the entirety of Asia as they only studied significant areas within Asia. As such, the results from those communities couldn’t be generalized to the entirety of Asia. In the future, these studies could investigate Asian culture as a whole or focus in on a specific part of Asian culture. These results would be more significant and reliable when compared to a population.
The proof in this inquiry concludes that there is a difference in how Asia views the role of interpersonal attraction in couples and thus supports the claim that “Interpersonal relationships aren’t the same in every culture”. However, due to some of the limitations within the evidence, the data may not be able to be generalized to the entirety of a population.
- Huang, W.-J. (2005). An Asian Perspective on Relationship and Marriage Education. Family Process, 44(2), 161–173. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2005.00051.x
- Madathil, J., & Benshoff, J. M. (2008). Importance of Marital Characteristics and Marital Satisfaction: A Comparison of Asian Indians in Arranged Marriages and Americans in Marriages of Choice. The Family Journal, 16(3), 222–230. doi:10.1177/1066480708317504
- Sternberg, R. and Sternberg, K. (2006). The new psychology of love. New York: Yale University, p.257.
- Wang, S., & Lau, A. S. (2015). Mutual and Non-Mutual Social Support. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46(7), 916–929.doi:10.1177/0022022115592967