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Love Across Cultures

Although love needs to be framed within a cultural context, many scholars believe that romantic love is transcultural. Elaine Hatfield and Richard L. Rapson (1996) viewed passionate love as common to virtually all cultures, and indeed, romantic love has been found in most countries of the world, as described in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample ( Jankowiak and Fischer 1992). Love also appears to have been part of people's conscious experience for many centuries. Wenchun Cho and Susan E. Cross (1995) examined Chinese literature dating from 500 to 3,000 years ago and found themes that seemed to represent passionate love, casual love, devoted love, obsessive love, and free choice of a mate, all themes that are present in contemporary love theories. These authors then used the LAS to see whether these themes were found in current attitudes of Taiwanese students living in the United States. These students did indeed express six different love styles, but not exactly the six contained in the LAS. For example, passionate and altruistic love seemed to be combined in a "Romantic and Considerate love," and practical and altruistic love seemed to be combined in "Obligatory love."

Robin Goodwin and Charlotte Findlay (1997) compared Chinese, Hong Kong, and British respondents on the love styles and the Chinese concept of yuan (fated and predestined love). Although the Chinese participants were more endorsing of yuan as well as practical and altruistic love styles, British respondents also agreed strongly with several of the yuan items. Robert L. Moore (1998) used written narratives and interviews to document the importance of love to both Chinese and U.S. cultures but also emphasized that love in Chinese society is tempered by additional characteristics such as the need for parental approval and the importance of appropriate behavior.

In other research, Pacific Islanders, Japanese Americans, and European Americans (all Hawaii residents) were compared on various aspects of love and relationships (Doherty et al. 1994). Attachment was related to love similarly for all the groups, and the groups did not differ in either companionate or passionate love. Sprecher and her colleagues (1994) also found similarities across cultures. They compared Russians, Japanese, and Americans on love and relationships, and found that although some cultural differences were present—Russians less likely to require love as a basis for marriage, Japanese agreeing less with certain romantic beliefs, Americans more endorsing of secure attachment—"the young adults from the three countries were similar in many love attitudes and experiences" (p. 363).

Cross-cultural similarity in love attitudes was documented by Raquel Contreras and her colleagues (1996), who studied Mexican-American and Anglo-American couples in the United States. The Mexican-American couples were divided into bi-cultural (equally oriented to Hispanic and Anglo cultures) and Hispanic-oriented groups, because acculturation to a majority culture in a particular country may alter the relationship behavior that someone brings with them from a country of origin. In fact, there were only modest love attitude differences among the groups. The Anglo-American, bicultural, and Hispanic-oriented couples did not differ in passionate, altruistic, or friendship-based love, and they were also similar in relationship satisfaction. Modest cultural differences were shown by Bernard I. Murstein, Joseph R. Merighi, and Stuart A. Vyse (1991), who found in comparing French and American students on the LAS that the French students were more agapic, and American students were more manic and oriented to friendship love.

In considering what we know about love across cultures, it is likely that the propensity for romantic love is cross-cultural and may well be part of our genetic heritage. But love is also construed and constructed within contexts of culture and country. As William R. Jankowiak (1995) observed, "Romantic passion is a complex, multifaceted emotional phenomenon that is a byproduct of an interplay between biology, self, and society" (p. 4).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsLove - Passionate And Companionate Love, Prototypes Of Love, Triangular Theory Of Love, Attachment Theory And The Evolution Of Love - Conclusion