influence of culture

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Many relationships in varying cultures can be voluntary (marrying who you want) or non- voluntary (arranged marriages). Western cultures are predominantly urban, ensuring relatively easy social and geographical mobility, and therefore interaction with a large number of people. This leads to a high degree of choice over who people interact with on a voluntary basis.

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Non- western cultures lack these urban settings, therefore people have less social and geographical mobility, interaction with fewer people on a daily basis, and therefore less choice over who they form relationships with. Interactions with strangers are rare, and relationships are frequently tied to other factors, such as family or economic resources. 

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And there is research to support these theory’s, Epstein (2002) found that in societies with reduced mobility, non- voluntary (arranged) marriages seem to work well, with low divorce rates and surprisingly high levels of love between partners over time. However a Chinese study (Xiaohe and Whyte) found that women who had married for love were happier than women who were in arranged marriages.

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However no differences in marital satisfaction were found when comparing to non- arranged marriages in the US. Therefore although frowned upon by Western societies such traditional match- making through families appear to have some value. 

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However fast developing cultures like China have now seen a noticeable increase in ‘love’ relationships with a move away from arranged marriages. Parents dictating partner choice has decreased from 70% in 1949 to less than 10% in 1990’s.

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Again Xiaohe and White (1990) found that women in Chengdu who married for love actually felt better about their marriages than women who had arranged marriages showing partner choice appears to be important element in sustainable relationships regardless of culture. 

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The main issue here was the sample as it was based only on women from Chengdu and therefore the likelihood of culture bias may still exist as there may be a unique culture that exists only within that area and may not apply across the whole of China. 

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Also this research has gender bias as the men were not asked how happy they are- even though women may have reported to be happy this may not have been the case for men, additionally we do not know how the women were asked to they may have adjusted their answers to fit social desirability or to make them look like they were happily married so not to annoy the husband or their families. 

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These studies could also lack a lot of historical validity as relationships are changing all the time, with the increase in social media availability it may be easier for people to meet strangers and to marry for love. So in future it could be that arranged marriages do not happen at all and so these studies would become irrelevant and lack ecological validity and become less useful.

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Because relationships in Western cultures are typically based on freedom of choice, we might expect to find differences between Western and non- Western cultures regarding the importance of love in romantic relationships.

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Levine et al compared 11 cultures using a questionnaire and found that a higher proportion of respondents from collectivist cultures than individualistic cultures were willing to marry in the absence of love. 

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The US respondents said that only 14% might marry someone they did not love, while in India the result was 24% and in Thailand it was 34%.This suggests that love is seen as a comparative luxury in collectivist cultures.    

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Attitudes towards romantic relationships may be better explained by the urbanisation and mobility found in Western cultures rather than Western/ non- Western cultural differences. For example, the increase in divorce rates in India is attributed to the thriving middle class rather than within the country as a whole. 

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However the increase in divorce rates could be down to the modernisation of the country, if divorce laws changed that could be the reason they increased. This happened in the UK, when the divorce laws let women have the right to divorce her husband the rate of divorce increased, this could be one of many extraneous variables that the experimenter did not take into account. 

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Moore and Leung, in a study of romantic love among Australian students, found differences between Anglo-Australian and Chinese- Australian students in their attitude to romantic relationships, love and loneliness. Contrary to the stereotypical view that romance is a characteristic only of Western cultures, positive attitudes to romantic love were endorsed by both groups.

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There is cultural bias in representations of romantic relationships as there is an influence of US romantic comedies may create a warped sense of the ‘perfect’ relationship and creates a culturally biased view of romance to young people. Being exposed to highly idealised views of relationships creates the impression that these are ‘normal’. 

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A questionnaire study by Johnson and Holmes found that people who had watched US romantic comedies tended to have views of relationships that reflected the themes portrayed in the films. For example, these films tended to suggest that love and commitment exist from the moment people meet, whereas in real life this is far more gradual. 

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But this study uses questionnaires to the participants could change their answers to look more socially desirable. The films that the participants watched wouldn’t have all been the same so this will lack validity. Also this is something you wouldn’t be able to test exactly, it would be based on people’s opinions and what they said to the experimenter so may not be accurate. 

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There could also be an issue of valued judgment where different people could think the responses would mean different things to other people. This would also reduce validity, but this study is mostly only useful it doesn’t have much scientific value.

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There are many methodological problems with research in this area as research into cultural differences in relationships may be limited by the research method adopted within a study. 

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If any aspect of the study (e.g. a measure of ‘love’ or ‘satisfaction’) is interpreted differently within one culture compared to another, this creates a cultural bias that invalidates any conclusions that might be drawn.

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Some theories in this area can be thought of as deterministic as the theories vies that people’s behaviour towards being in relationships are controlled by external forces e.g. parents views or geographical barriers rather than free will. 

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But everyone does have free will and people do have the right to choose who they want to be with. In some cultures it may be more difficult or economical but primarily everyone has a choice who they fall in love with. 

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It just depends whether they choose to be with that same person or someone else to help out families economically or to keep their level of hierarchy in the area. 

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