"Describe and analyse a cross cultural relationship with an individual or group which you are or were involved in from a social psychological perspective. this can be written in the first person"
The past two decades have seen significant changes to the cultural dimensions of society . Relationships of a cross cultural nature have risen substantially in friendship, marriage, intimate relationships and families alike (Negy, Shreve, Jenson & Uddin, 2003). A study of American college students found that 66% of participants had been involved in an inter couple of some sort, with a second study reporting that over one quarter of participants had dated interracially (Reiter, Krause & Stirlen, 2005, & Knox, Zusman, Buffington & Hemphill, 200 in Reiter, et al, 2005).Cross cultural can be defined as coming from different races, faiths and cultural backgrounds (Reiter, et al, 2005). The purpose of this paper is to analyse factors that are involved in the forming and maintaining of such relationships and to identify similarities and differences when compared to single culture couples. This essay will examine cross cultural relationships from a social psychological perspective using my own personal experience. The relationship that will be used as the primary case study involves a 23 year old Malaysian male of Muslim faith and a 21 year old Australian female of Catholic faith. The relationship is cross cultural in race, faith and culture aspects.
Relationships are integral in everyday life. We as human social beings are involved in relationships on varying levels from friends, families, partners, work mates to the other extreme of enemies. Across cultures these relationships are apparent however they do sometimes differ in operation and definition (Ecklund, 2007). To examine cross cultural relationships a number of theories and psychology principles need to be considered including theories of attraction, similarity, ethnocentrism, propinquity and cultural competency.
Attraction can be defined as any factor that draws people together and has the potential to lead to a more permanent relationship (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). It is a key component to the formation of any relationship and is a factor that pervades all cultures. Whilst we often hypothesise that opposites attract research has demonstrated that similarity is in fact what people are attracted to (Shibazaki, 1998). Being attracted to similarity includes both physical appearance as well as having similar attitudes, values and in the majority of cases race (Feingold, 1988). Studies that have taken place across cultural groups have identified that those from different cultural background are often attracted to much of the same things in terms of appearance, in particular showing a preference for ideal bodies depicted in mass media (Swami et al, 2007). One particular study found that Hispanics, Asians and Caucasians were all consistent in their judgements of attractiveness. All groups were found to prefer a smaller nose, a greater distance between eyes, partners who were sexually mature with larger lower lips and a well groomed appearance (Cunningham, Roberts, Wu & Druen, 1995). Differences were noted however with Asian respondents being more accepting to lower cheekbones and wider cheeks but less positive to sexual maturity. Limitations of the study were noted however as western aesthetics could have influenced responses. More validity would be awarded if the study was replicated in rural settings (Cunningham et al, 1995). Differences in responses to attractiveness across cultures in another study were found to possibly be the result of differences in gender roles in different countries indicating that male attractiveness may vary across culture (Swami et al, 2007).
The self monitoring theory can also be discussed in relation to attraction to similarity (Feingold, 1988). This concept suggests that we change to become more like those we interact with. Those who are high in self monitoring seek to maximise each social situation and therefore adapt their behaviour and aspects of their personality more readily (Gangestad & Synder, 2000). When initially examining these concepts in regards to my relationship on the surface it is hard to see any similarities when we appear and act so differently however on closer inspection these theories are in action to some extent. When interacting with each others families it is fair to say that we both adjust our personalities and nature to the different culture. This includes our use of languages, dress, political opinions, cultural mannerisms such as greetings and general worldly views (see Appendix A). Whilst it is hard to comment on theories of attraction as a lot of it is an unconscious process we both admit to being attracted to specific physical features of one another which coincide with the theories and research results despite our obvious cultural differences and views.
Ethnocentrism relates to believing that ones own culture (cultural heritage) is superior to another’s (Derald Wing, 2004). This term also encapsulates judging another from your own cultural point of view and the false assumptions that are made as a result of the incorrect interpretation (Negy et al, 2003). In this sense individuals are conditioned to compare and judge the practices of other groups in relation to their own view of what is normal (Negy, et al, 2003, Derald Wing, 2004). This is a term that relates strongly when examining cross cultural relationships as when two partners have been raised in different backgrounds they both have differing beliefs of what is normal and appropriate. In our relationship this is very apparent in areas such as language and general cultural practices such as eating. Western culture and my family have always dictated to me that I must eat using a knife and fork and that eating without was undignified however in my partners culture eating with your right hand is a typical cultural practice. I also had a number of false assumptions and opinions about Islamic cultures and practices that I had developed from my limited exposure ( media depictions). I strongly felt that my culture was less oppressive and authoritative until experiencing the religion first hand (see Appendix A). Reducing such false ideas is vital in cross cultural relationships as you learn and experiences the ’norms’ of your partners background and improve your cultural competency.
Cultural competency refers to the ability to interact efficiently and effectively with those from other cultures(Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). It encompasses increasing knowledge of other cultures and relying less on subconscious frames of reference to analyse, compare and judge (Dason,2007). It has been suggested by Allport and others that such cultural frames of reference are imprinted early in life and continue to develop over the lifespan. Those who are more culturally competent incorporate learnt knowledge instead of relying on their own cultural assumptions to always guide them (Ecklunk, 2007)
Being a part of a cross cultural relationship improves cultural competency immensely. My partner has lived in other western countries before so the learning curve for him was perhaps not as steep however it has only been through repeated exposure and experience from a first hand nature (visiting his family in Malaysia) that I have improved my competency and reduced my ethnocentrism (see Appendix A). With repeated exposure I have increased my familiarity with his culture and therefore are more aware of differences and less quick to judge.
Propinquity is often labelled as the best predictor of a relationship. The term put simply refers to a greater liking for a familiar stimulus.(Lease & Blake, 2005). This was well demonstrated in a cross cultural sense when schools were desegregated which led to an increase in mixed race friendships. The children were able to look beyond race characteristics and further explore similarities and differences that they had with the children from other cultural backgrounds. A study by Lease and Blake (2005), found that children from a majority race who had mixed race friendships were both more popular and displayed more positive behaviour characteristics. Such close proximity with other races and the removing of such barriers has the potential to increase harmony in societies (Dixion, 2006). Other reports however have stated that those involved in cross cultural relationships find that they identify less with their own ethnic group and that they felt that society was less accepting of them, indicating a gain and loss phenomenon (Shibazaki, 1998) (see Appendix A).
Social Exchange Theory
People are motivated to rewards and generally speaking loose interest when costs are involved (Heide, Wathne, Rokkan, 2007). In a relationship context rewards consist of factors such as love and companionship with costs including effort, compromise and risk. From a cross cultural relationship perspective unlike a single culture couple high costs are often applicable. Costs in this sense can include changing vales to meet another culture, separating from family and friends, religious pressure, language difficulties and cultural clashes. It has been found that people in cross cultural relationships exchanged affections at significant levels (Reiter, et al, 2005). In relation to my personal relationship I can see where the costs might at times appear high. My partner has chosen to stay in Australia while the majority of his family reside in Malaysia, I am struggling to learn a new language and cultural greeting practices amongst other things (see Appendix A).
The contact hypothesis demonstrates a lot about cross cultural relationships and the potential outcomes for such relationships (Dixon, 2006). With the increased globalisation through travel, media and the use of technology such as the internet people are coming into contact with a much wider array of cultures (Reiter et al, 2005). Many younger groups are beginning to engage in cross cultural relationships with an increase in prevalence in the USA (Reiter et al, 2005). This increased contact is reducing negative stigmas and leading to a more diverse and integrated society.
Studies have found that similar levels of relationship satisfaction and attraction can be found between mixed race and single race couples (Shibazaki, 1998). Whilst cross cultural relationships to the eye often appear to be comprised of difference, a certain level of similarity can generally be found. The main exception when comparing cross cultural to single culture would be social exchange theory and the less emphasis on costs and rewards. Many theories can be investigated in relation to these relationships and it can be concluded that those in cross cultural relationships are high self monitors. As the prevalence of such relationships increase in all sectors more research should be pursued to compare couples and identify key links to theories.
Word Count: 1615 (withour headings and references)
Baumeister, R.F. & Bushman, B.J. (2008) Social psychology and human nature (1st ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Cunningham, M.R., Roberts, A.R., Barbee, A.P., Druen, P.B. & Wu, C.H. (1995). ‘Their ideas of beauty are on the whole, the same as ours’. Consistency and variability in the cross cultural perception of female physical attractiveness. Jounral of Personality and Social Psychology,2, 261-279.
Dason, P.R. (2007). Review of culture and competence: Context of life success. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38, 531-532.
Derald Wing, S. (2004). Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism: making the ‘invisible’ visible. American Psychologist, 59, 761-769.
Dixon, J. (2007). Intergroup contact and attitudes toward the principle and practice of racial equity. Psychological Science, 18, 867-872..
Dixon, J.C. (2006). The ties that bind and those that don’t: Toward reconciling group threat and contact theories of prejudice. Social Forces, 84, 2179-2204
Ecklunk, K. (2007). Toward cultural competence in child intake assessment. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38, 356-362.
Feingold, A. (1988). Matching for attractiveness in romantic partners and same sex friends: A meta-analysis and theoretical critique. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 226-235.
Gangestad, S.W. & Synder, M. (2000). Self-monitoring: Appraisal and reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 530-555.
Heide, J.B., Wathne, K.H. & Rokkan, A, I. (2007). Interfirm monitoring, social contracts and relationship outcomes. Journal of Marketing Research, 44, 425-433.
Lease, A.M. & Blake, J.J. (2005). A comparison of majority race children with and without a minority race friend. Social development, 14, 20-41.
Negy, C., Shreve, T.L., jenson, B.J. & Uddin, N. (2003). Ethnic identity; self esteem and ethnocentrism: A study of social identity versus multicultural theory of development. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority psychology, 9, 332-344.
Reiter, M.D., Krause, J.M., Stirlen, A. (2005). Inter-couple dating on a college campus. College Student Journal, 39, 449-554.
Shibazaki, K. (1998). When birds of a feather flock together: A preliminary comparison of intra ethnic and inter ethnic dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 248-256.
Swami, V., Smith, J., Tsiokris, A., Georgiades, C., Sangareau, Y., Tovee, M.J. & Furnham, A. (2007). Male physical attractiveness in Britain and Greece: A cross cultural study. The Journal of Social Psychology, 147, 15-26.
Attraction Similarity - Different appearance (asian/Caucasian) yet similar body shape, typical dress, same family values, life goals, from similar socio economic backgrounds, same interests, eg Uni, sport,
Self Monitoring - In particular dress and appearance when in Malaysia or around elder Malaysia family members (longer pants and sleeves), no swearing, less demonstration of affection toward one another, level of religious practice demonstrated to different levels when with differing families. Greetings change, when meeting people in austrlaia hand shake or hug perhaps, in Malaysia touching of forehead to an elders hand, two kisses on cheek, less contact with opposite sex
Ethnocentrism - Assumption that families will not be accepting of one another, that Muslim culture will create tension on both parts, beliefs about certain cultural practices such as praying, family interactions, assumptions also about traditions such as weddings and notions of culture shock. All reduced significantly with exposure.
Cultural Competency - language barrier has been reduced, as I learn my partners first language understanding of meanings of traditions eg. For me Ramadan and eid, for my partner Christmas, integration of these beliefs and the sharing of common beliefs in our home, knowledge about cultural history and geography.
Propinquity - With more time spent with each family increased acceptance, understanding and enjoyment of each others culture, given the opportunity to participate in another’s culture not just as a tourist changes perceptions and increases familiarity.
Social Exchange theory - My partner currently is only on a student visa and it could be looked at s a possible cost as initially it was unsure if he was going to be able to stay in austrlai, he on the other hand has had to weigh up staying here with me and returning to his home country with his family, this is a long term ongoing issue that will involve compromise on both sides and seperation from our own cultures and families at different times over the years and course of our relationships, learning of new cultures can be very daunting and upsetting e.g culture shock and could be avoiding if you do not engage in a cross cultural relationship, further costs can be acceptance by your peers, society and family members (e.g putting up with comments and staring etc)
Contact Hypothesis - With repeated exposure and familiarity with one anothers cultures the stereotypical views that we once help have been reduced, a primary example involved whern I first went to Malaysia, it was different to my other overseas trips and at first I was a little un sure but the more time I spent with the family and embraced the culture the more I have enjoyed it and it allows me to accept that at some point I no doubt will be living there for longer periods of time as we both compromise.
Theory - I have tried to incorporate as many relevant social psychology theories into my work as the word count would allow for. I think that the theories I have chosen incorporate my understanding of the nature of the course and show links with my topic. My topic was harder to write on than I originally anticipated and so I have included theories that relate to relationships in general that are also apparent in cross cultural situations. i would have liked to include my further examples in a table instead of an appendix but had trouble when posting it to my blog.
Research - I have incorporated a lot of research however the university did not have access to a lot of articles that I would have liked to have read. I do feel however that I have an extensive reference list however there is a lot of room for improvement in my use of studies. I was unable to find a lot of studies that I found relevant to my work and that is why I have focused a lot on definitions and how the theories relate to cross cultural relationships. The fact that I was to use my own personal experience also was useful to demonstrate my understanding of the terms and their relationship to the topic.
Written Expression - My written expression was not up to my usual standard as I was pushed for time and did not get the chance to complete another draft before submission. I do however believe that my work is easy to read and clearly set out in an academic way. I think that I have answered the question in a way relevant to social psychology however I thik that my topic could be interpreted in a number of ways and therefore is very broad., this being said I am happy with my my content and the flow of my work. I have adheed to APA format as best i could within the blog format however some formatting was not transfered such as hanging indent when editing my work.
Online Engagement - This I feel is the strength of my work in this subject,. I feel that as with the last blog I was a high contributor to the online community both my making my own post and by contributing to others works. After blog 1 I wanted to increase the level of information I provided to others when commenting on their works and I have done this giving a lot of links and articles. A full list of my contributions can be found on my blog however the post I am most happy with include the quiz that I sent to Michelle which she placed on her blog for others to complete.
I was first to receive 3 stars and I am very happy with my online contributions.