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Love and Culture: A Fact Sheet

Updated: May 20

Love as we know it is just that: as we know it. To people around the world, what love is, how it is given or received, and what it means varies based on the cultural influences surrounding them. The following provides an overview of the different facets of love around the world.


Attachment: Attachment theory posits that the bonds we form in our early relationships affect how we act in other meaningful relationships throughout the rest of our life. These bonds form as a result of an intermingling between environment and culture. 

  • Environment: Conditions surrounding a child’s upbringing such as treatment, economic standing, and parent psychopathology all impact the attachment bonds they form. 

    • For example, children raised in orphanages are less likely to develop a secure attachment, and those infants that are maltreated are more likely to be insecurely attached. 

    • Observing environments from the parental end, parents living in poverty also tend to be less responsive and create less nurturing environments for a child.

    • Demonstrated affluence does appear to have a continued role in attachment because mothers who attended more schooling were found to be more responsive to children by using their words and facial expressions, as well as held infants more, and for longer. 

    • Contrastingly, mothers who are depressed usually have lower-quality interactions with their infants.

  • Culture: Culture also has a huge role in the parenting strategies parents employ as well as the values they view as important for their children to have. Children grow up to use these values to inform the expectations and perspectives they have in the other loving relationships they form. 

    • In Germany, parents impress upon their infants that children cannot permanently rely on comfort from their mother, and thus must develop a sense of independence early on.

    • In Japan, the opposite occurs: a strong sense of interdependence is emphasized because infants are always closely attended to by their mother.

    • Cultures also differ in how they express their emotions, meaning the acceptable ways couples have to communicate and resolve conflicts also differ. Regarding poor conflict resolution, infants who were exposed to verbally aggressive arguing between their parents tended to develop more insecure attachments.

    • The support parents receive from communities is also derived from cultural expectations. Researchers found that when mothers of more irritable infants lacked this social support, their children were more likely to develop insecure attachment.

Cultures
Love and Cultural Differences

Meanings of Love: Similarly to the love seen between parents and children, romantic love- love between two partners- also differs widely across cultures in how it is defined and valued.

  • Researchers first set out to investigate if romantic love was even a concept experienced around the world or if it was an idea rooted in Western Cultures. While 19 of the 166 cultures they explored showed no indications of romantic love being experienced, the 147 other cultures they assessed did. This research points to the belief that romantic love could be virtually universal. 

  • Though romantic love is closely related to sexual attraction, it is still driven by more than sexual desire and lust: it is generally a mix of these sexual and emotional desires, oftentimes even with an emphasis on emotions over pleasure. However, the hormone Kisspepptin still connects these two functions by enhancing activity in brain regions linked to both sexual arousal and romantic love.

  • What being in love means across different cultures also varies. In countries like the United States, Slovenia, and Cyprus, emotional investment was an important part of a loving relationship. Comparatively, Japan, Hong Kong, and Tanzania ranked as some of the least emotionally invested partners in the world. 

  • Not only does how we experience love depend on cultural influences, but how and what type of love we value changes as well. Europeans value love in general more than South Africans and Indians, and Americans and Germans value specifically romantic love more than cultures like Japan. Chinese people on the other hand tended to be more friendship oriented in loving relationships than Europeans. 


Marriage: One of the functions often most correlated with love, marriage, is then also vastly different around the world

  • Western cultures often struggle with the notion of arranged marriages, where marriages serve as an alliance between families. In these marriages and the cultures that practice them, family commitment is prioritized over attachment and love is proposed to be developed after marriage. Though many cultures are shifting from arranged marriages to “semi-arranged” marriages, we see that romantic love is still not the basis for marriage in all places. Whereas these non-western cultures prioritize concern for family over other factors, Western cultures tend to champion people’s freedom of choice when choosing a mate. 

  • The differences surrounding marriage also originate along different dimensions besides this western/non-western designation.  Individualistic cultures, those that value personal rights and achievement over duties, exist in North America, Australia, and Northern and Western parts of Europe. Here love is not just important, but essential in establishing  marriage, and if this love dwindles or disappears, termination of the marriage is reasonable. These cultures thus experience a high marriage and divorce rate, but low fertility rate, 

  • Collectivist cultures, those that value membership in communities with common goals and purposes, exist in places like China, Latin America, Greece, Italy, and the Pacific Islands. Here, marriage represents a union between the entirety of two families, and the newlywed couple is expected to love the person they marry (as opposed to marrying the person they love). These cultures tend to present the most support for arranged marriages, and in countries like India, these practices date back 6,000 years. 


Overall, we can see than along dimensions like attachment, romantic love, and marriage, cultural influences are constantly at play in affecting how we view and experience love. 




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