A2 - Psychology - Cultural variations in relationships

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  • Created on: 14-12-15 11:46

Cultural variations in relationships

Western and non-western relationships

Voluntary or non-voluntary relationships

A distinguishing feature of many Western cultures is that we live in predominantly urban setting, with relatively easy geographical and social mobility. This ensures that, on a daily basis, we voluntarily interact with a large number of people, many of whom are first acquaintances. Western cultures, therefore, are characterised by a greater 'pool' of potential relationships. Non-western cultures, on the other hand, have fewer large urban centres and less geographical and social mobility, therefore people have less choice about those they interact with on a daily basis. Interactions with strangers are rare, and relationships are frequently tied to other factors, such as family or economic resources. 

Individual or group-based relationships

Western cultures place great importance on the rights and freedom of the individual, with individual happiness and pleasure seen as fundamentally important. Such cultures are described as individualist because of their focus on the individual rather than the group. In non-western cultures the group tends to be the primary unit of concern. Members of such collectivist cultures are encouraged to be interdependent rather than independent. The culture attitudes of individualist cultures, where individual interests aree more highly regarded than group goals and freedom of choice, whereas collectivism leads to relationships that may have more to do with the concerns of family or group (Moghaddam et al 1993).

Continuity and discontinuity

Using a comparison of Chinese and North American societies, Hsu (1983) described the Chinese regard for heritag and ancestry, and the suspicion with which change is generally viewed. American culture, on the other hand, emphasises progress, with change seen as inevitable and important. Things that are 'old-fashioned' are viewed with disdain. This culture difference is consistent with the types of relationship typically found in Western and non-western culutres. Non-western cultures that emphasise continuity are therefore likely to be dominated by permanent relationships. Western cultures emphasise change and discontinuity, and therefore tend to favour more temporary relationships.

Norms and rules 

Norms are general descriptions of what is considered appropriate behaviour within a particular relationship. These act as guidelines for behaviour and influence how we act out any given relationship. One such norm that plays a key part in personal relationships is the norm of reciprocity, i.e. for a benefit received, an equivalent benefit should be returned. Ting-Toomey (1986) found that, in individualist cultures, collectivist cultures it is more obligatory. In such cultures, failure to…


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