Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Love and culture

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Love and culture:
What is romantic love and how is it influenced by culture?
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Figure 1. A young couple in love.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Case study

Julian is 23 years old and was born and raised in the Westernised culture of Australia. All his life Julian has believed that one day he will meet that special someone and he will eventually choose to marry them. Until recently Julian was under the impression that this was how love worked; that one day you will meet someone who makes you feel love and loved, and that love will motivate you to want to spend the rest of your life with them, as result you marry them because of that emotional feeling of love. However, as Julian has recently moved overseas and away from the Westernised culture of Australia to the city of Dubai, he is now being exposed to a different way of developing love and lasting relationships (marriage). In this culture Julian is exposed to the idea of arranged marriages and love which has been decided for people by their families since they were born. This culture's perspective on love is different to the perspective that Julian has always known and has been brought up believing in. Julian finds this culture's perspective on love confusing and is now starting to doubt whether he will be able to find that 'special someone' in this culture which is so different to what he has always known. So what is romantic love? How and why are we motivated to experience romantic love? Is the perception of romantic love universal and how much of romantic love is influenced by our culture?

The aim of this book chapter is to define romantic love, expose the underlying motivation for romantic love, and explain the cultural influences of individualistic and collectivist environments on the development and perception of romantic love. The aim of this analysis is to provide you with knowledge and an understanding of romantic love and its variation in value and perception among different cultures. From reading this book chapter you will gain greater insight to your own perceptions of romantic love and how they may differ from the way people in other cultures perceive it. Ultimately this book chapter aims to make you more aware and accepting of other cultures so that if you are ever in the same situation as Julian, you will not feel the same discomfort and confusion. Hopefully you will take away knowledge about the underlying motivation for romantic love and how it is influenced by culture to improve the authenticity of your own experience of romantic love.

Learning objectives
  1. To define romantic love.
  2. To explore and explain some of the psychological perspectives on romantic love to explain why we are motivated to experience it.
  3. To establish whether or not romantic love is universal.
  4. To recognise the different cultural perceptions of romantic love.
  5. To understand how much culture influences our ability and desire to experience romantic love.

Romantic love[edit | edit source]

What is romantic love?[edit | edit source]

Love can be defined as an emotion which involves a way of feeling. This is a feeling that is more than platonic towards something; this something can be a person, an object or even an environment (Harlow & Harlow, 1966). The concept of romantic love is different to the definition of love as it focusses on the more intimate aspect of love between two people (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986). Romantic love, or commonly referred to as ‘passionate love’, can be defined as ‘the motivational state associated with feelings of attachment and drive to seek commitment with a partner’ (Gonzaga, Turner, Keltner, Campos & Altemus, 2006, pg. 163). Most psychologists explain romantic love as a combination of intense attraction/sexual desire for a person, as well as a sense of closeness or emotional attachment to this person (Gottschall & Nordlund, 2006). Whilst love can describe the connection between romantic partners, family members, friends or even the relationship one has with their pets, romantic love is the specific description of love which explains the connection between two people involved in a romantic relationship (Harlow & Harlow, 1966). A romantic relationship often involves sexual intimacy as well as an emotional intimate bond between two people and can be short-term or long-lasting (Brennan & Shaver, 1995). Romantic love is often related to an individuals own experience and is often defined according to relationships they have had. For example, a person who reports having very successful romantic love relationships may define romantic love very differently when compared to someone who has experienced significant 'heartbreak' in relationships. Essentially romantic love can be perceived as a specific type or a subtype of love that explains the emotional and physical connection between two people.

How is it different to other types of love?[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Sternbergs Triangular Theory of Love

Sternberg’s Triangular theory of love (1986) identifies 7 different types of love which are explained by three components; intimacy, passion and commitment (see table). The seven kinds of love recognised by the Triangular theory of love include: liking, infatuated love, empty love, romantic love, companionate love, fatuous love and consummate love. Liking, empty love and infatuated love are considered the friendly types of love such as the love you would have for a friend or pet. Whereas[grammar?], romantic love, companionate love, fatuous love and consummate love are the types of love that typically explain the deep love between two partners.

Table 1.

List of the types of love and the components associated with each type according to Sternberg's triangular theory.

Type of Love Description
Romantic Love Intimacy + Passion
Fatuous Love Passion + Commitment
Companionate Love Commitment + Intimacy
Consummate Love Intimacy + Passion + Commitment
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Figure 3.The ultimate love story. Romeo and Juliet

According to Sternberg’s theory (1986), romantic love is constructed by 2 components: passion and intimacy. Passion is described as a strong or intense emotion that can be overwhelming to the person experiencing it (Sternberg, 1986). Passion is characterised by excessive thinking about a person, a strong desire to be around them and is associated with strong feelings of sexual desire (Gonzaga,, 2006; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986). Intimacy can be described as close familiarity or friendship (Sternberg, 1986), which essentially explains that it is the close bond that develops through knowing someone well. From the components that make up romantic love, it is clear that romantic love is the combination of intense feelings of sexual desire and feelings of closeness with a partner. In comparison to the other three types of love, romantic love lacks the component ‘commitment’. As romantic love lacks commitment, it can be identified as a type of love that lacks dedication to maintain a long-term relationship, or could simply be a short-term relationship which has not yet secured a future (i.e. not engaged moving towards married life) (Sternberg, 1986). The idea of commitment could also mean the love is more ‘in the moment’ (meaning actions are based on intense feelings at a current time) than reliant on future commitment to the relationship (Gonzaga,, 2006).

Examples of romantic and companionate love[edit | edit source]

A well-known and popularised example of romantic love can be seen in the film 'Romeo + Juliet' (1996) which is a modern take on William Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The love between Romeo and Juliet demonstrates the intense feelings of passion as well as the need to be close to this loved one (intimacy). This story also demonstrates the lack of commitment as it was based on ‘in the moment’ decisions and the entire story unfolded over a short period of time. Romeo and Juliet had the experience of romantic love as their feelings of love were immediate and intense with a strong sense of gravitation towards each other.

In comparison, an example of companionate love could be the relationship between characters Monica and Chandler from the television program ‘Friends’ (1998). In this relationship the two characters had been friends for several years before developing their relationship further, indicating commitment and intimacy. This relationship was based on security and friendship as the two characters had known each other for a long time before entering a deeper relationship.

Theoretical approaches of romantic love[edit | edit source]

Why are we motivated to experience romantic love? Is it because we have instinctual motivation, or because we are biologically driven, or are we influenced by the combination of our social environments and psychological desires? This next section attempts to explain the motivational underpinnings of romantic love through examining evolutionary, biological and psychosocial perspectives.

Evolutionary[edit | edit source]

The evolutionary perspective of psychology is the idea that our actions are based on our basic natural instincts of personal survival and survival of one’s genes (Buss & Kenrick, 1998). The evolutionary perspective acknowledges that the main underlying motivation for physical intimacy is the need to produce offspring (Gottschall & Nordlund, 2006). The description of romantic love by Sternberg (1986) indicates that a major component of romantic love is sexual desire. From the evolutionary perspective the idea that we have a physical need and desire to participate in sexual relations is explained. According to the evolutionary theory on relationships, the key motivator to form romantic relationships for males, is to produce as many heirs as possible (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Whereas, the key motivator for females is to find someone who has the means to support potential offspring (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). From this analysis, romantic love would seem to be most beneficial for males as this type of love lacks commitment, meaning male partners can experience physical intimacy and sexual intercourse but may not feel committed to this particular partner (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Moreover, due to the lack of commitment required for romantic love, males can come and go more easily in a ‘romantic’ relationship as opposed to a ‘companionate’ relationship (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). This analysis indicates that romantic love is more beneficial for males than females in terms of development and production of offspring, indicating that more males would prefer a romantic love whereas females are more likely to prefer a companionate love (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Through looking at the evolutionary perspective of romantic love, the motivational properties of romantic love are based on the idea that physical intimacy and closeness is primarily motivated by natural instincts for survival of one's genes. With consideration of this theory, it would seem that romantic love would be evident cross-culturally as the motivation for romantic love is driven by our natural instinct for survival.

Biological[edit | edit source]

The biological perspective acknowledges the idea that our behaviour is heavily influenced by hormones. Sexual intercourse (sex) induces the release of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine which facilitate feelings of happiness and decreased anxiety (Diamond, 2004).The evolutionary and biological perspectives often go hand-in-hand as the evolutionary perspective identifies that we has humans have a need for sex (Buss & Kenrick, 1998), and it is the biological perspective that explains the influence of hormone production from the act of sex to explain motivational behaviour for romantic love (Diamond, 2004). From the biological perspective on romantic love, people are unconsciously motivated to experience romantic relationships because of the biological rewards of hormone release (Jankowiak & Fischer, 1992). Romantic love is not just influenced by sex it is also influenced by intimacy and closeness with a significant other (Gonzaga,, 2006). Comfort and closeness (both physical and emotional) with another person can produce and release hormones that influence our levels of happiness similarly to those released from the act of sex (Jankowiak & Fischer, 1992). According to the biological perspective on romantic love, we as human beings need to be loved and feel love towards others both physically and emotionally in order for us to get that release of hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin. (Gonzaga,, 2006). Ultimately this perspective suggests that people are motivated to experience romantic love and be in romantic relationships as they help us produce hormones that promote happy and healthy well-being. Similarly to the observation of the evolutionary theory, this theory would indicate that romantic love is universal as it indicates that we are driven by our mammalian biological needs.

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Figure 4. A young couple kissing as a display of their romantic love

Psychosocial[edit | edit source]

The psychosocial perspective on romantic love is the idea that our psychological need and desire to experience romantic love is influenced by our social environment (Dion & Dion, 1996). The psychosocial theory of motivation for romantic love suggests that we see people in society experience romantic love and through observation we are influenced to seek this same experience (Rubin, 1970). We may see our peers, family and friends engaging in a romantic relationships, and from this observation we may see that this is socially acceptable behaviour that seems to produce positive emotions and attribute positive rewards (e.g. increased happiness), so it influences us to have a psychological desire to want and seek this same experience (Rubin, 1970). For example, once you reach a certain age you may begin to notice your peers and friends of a similar age start to form romantic relationships, from being exposed to this behaviour it may entice you to think that having a romantic relationship is now expected and this may then influence you to seek a romantic relationship due to peer pressure or psychological desire (Rubin, 1970). Ultimately, this perspective on romantic love suggests that our ideas and motivation to experience romantic love are influenced by social expectations which then entice our own personal desires. With consideration of the theory on romantic love, it suggests that romantic love may or may not be universal as the motivation for romantic love is primarily influenced by social context. This particular theory also helps to explain why romantic love may be perceived differently across cultures, as this concept of romantic love is not driven by human instinct or biological needs, it is driven by social influence on psychological perceptions indicating that the development of romantic relationships is culture specific (Dion & Dion, 1996).

Culture and romantic love[edit | edit source]

Is romantic love universal?[edit | edit source]

For [when?] years psychologists have been trying to establish the universality of the concept of romantic love (Gottschall & Nordlund, 2006). The evolutionary and biological theories on romantic love would indicate that it is universal as according to these perspectives, the emotional experience of romantic love is both involuntary and motivated by natural instinct as well as physiological human needs (Jankowiak & Fischer, 1992). However, as indicated by the psychosocial perspective on romantic love, the act and concept of ‘romantic love’ can vary depending on the social environment, indicating that perhaps what is considered as romantic love in one culture, may not be seen as the same in another (Rubin, 1970). Schmitt, Alcalay, Allensworth, Allik, Ault, Austers, … and Kardum (2004) aimed to find out whether or not romantic love is universal through examining the social and cultural views on adult romantic attachment across 62 different cultural regions. This study found that romantic love is indeed universal as all cultural regions identified a concept of romantic love (Schmitt,, 2004), although, it also found that the concept of romantic love alters slightly from culture to culture. According to Jankowiak and Fischer (1992), who also studied the universality of romantic love, they found that of 166 cultures examined, romantic love was evident in 88.5% of them, concluding that romantic love is ‘nearly universal’. From the analysis of these two studies it is clear that romantic love is evident and recognised in most cultures worldwide and can be considered as almost universal. It is also clear from these findings that the way romantic love is perceived and demonstrated within a culture differs cross-culturally.

Individualist vs. collectivist cultures[edit | edit source]

As identified by the research on the universality of romantic love, it is evident that romantic love is mostly universal, however, the perception and the way it is presented within society differs from culture to culture. Two of the most prominent cultures seen worldwide are collectivist and individualist cultures. These two cultures differ based on whether personal or group goals are of higher priority. A couple of the key aspects of romantic love that differ between these two cultures is the basis of marriage and the way the concept of romantic love is attributed to emotions.

Individualist culture[edit | edit source]

An individualistic culture is essentially a collective group of individuals who prioritise their own needs and personal goals ahead of community goals (Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). Most westernised countries, such as Australia, North America, Canada, and England, take on the individualist culture (Dion & Dion, 1996). The motivation for romantic love in an individualistic culture is for personal reasons (Dion & Dion, 1996). People in individualistic cultures often aim to ‘find love’, and in doing this they aim to find a single person who can bring out the best in them individually (e.g. someone who makes them happy or makes them feel good), or someone who can provide things that an individual may not be able to obtain on their own (e.g. financial wealth or social status) (Dion & Dion, 1996). Sometimes in this culture, people will engage in romantic relationships with people that may hinder their families’ reputation or image (Dion & Dion, 1996). In comparison, in a collectivist culture engaging in a relationship that may hinder the family reputation is often considered disrespectful (Levine, Sato, Hahimoto & Verma, 1995). In an individualistic culture one of the most important influences on the perception of romantic love is that romantic love is seen as an important basis for marriage (Levine,, 1995). In an individualistic culture marriage is often formed and based upon the romantic love between two partners (this is vastly different in a collectivist culture). One of the key factors of romantic love in an individualist culture is that it is perceived as a positive attribute to one's life. In this culture romantic love is seen as positive and is something that brings happiness and reduces loneliness in an individual’s life (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Ultimately, in an individualistic culture, romantic love is sought after for the benefit of oneself and is perceived to be the underlying basis for marriage.

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Figure 5. Traditional Indian wedding

Collectivist culture[edit | edit source]

In a collectivist culture each individual prioritises the needs and goals of the community before their own (Triandis,, 1988). Many eastern countries, such as India, China and Japan, are identified as having a collectivist culture (Dion & Dion, 1996). In many collectivist cultures romantic love is perceived as negative as it could potentially disrupt family-ties and the family’s tradition of arranged marriage if the person chooses to engage in romantic love with someone else (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Arranged marriages are most predominant in collectivist cultures (Levine,, 1995), the purpose of arranged marriage is the joining of families rather than the joining of two individual people which is seen in individualist cultures (Levine,, 1995). It is important to note that although arranged marriages are most predominant in collectivist cultures, not all marriages in these cultures are arranged, and although these marriages are primarily formed in order to join families, often there can be a romantic connection between the husband and wife (Levine,, 1995). In many of these collectivist cultures romantic love is not necessarily perceived as important to the specific individual and the motivation to find romantic love is not necessarily based on seeking individual happiness or because of their own personal interest or romantic feelings toward another person (Simmons, Vom Kolke, & Shimizu, 1986). In many cases the motivation to experience romantic love in this culture is based on the happiness and wealth of their family or community (Levine,, 1995). Shaver, Wu and Schwartz’s studied the perception of romantic love in China (1992) and found that romantic love can be perceived as negative, as feelings of sadness and jealousy are often associated with romantic love and in the Chinese culture these emotions are considered as ‘dark’ emotions. So whilst romantic love is perceived as a positive and happy concept in individualistic cultures, in collectivist cultures it can be perceived negatively (Kim & Hatfield, 2004).Ultimately, in a collectivist culture, romantic love is sought after for reasons that benefit one’s family and community, romantic love can also be perceived as a negative concept as it can be associated with dark emotions.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Psychological research on romantic love and the influence on romantic love among individualistic and collectivist cultures provides an interesting insight to why people are motivated to experience romantic love and how it is perceived cross-culturally. The examination of the psychological and motivational perspectives of love provides information to explain why we are motivated to find love and be loved. From reading this book chapter, hopefully you have gained some valuable insight to the reasons why people from different cultures experience romantic love differently, and has broadened your perspective and idea of romantic love. Lastly, now knowing the influence of your culture on how you experience love, may it motivate you to experience love that is authentic from the influences of your environment.

Take home message
  • There are a number of different types of love, romantic love is the type of love that involves intimacy and passion.
  • There are a number of psychological theories[explain?] that can be used to explain the motivation for romantic love. These theories indicate that the desire to experience romantic love is motivated by multiple factors. Recognising each of these theories can help one to understand why they or those around them, have a desire to experience romantic love.
  • The concept of romantic love is recognised universally, however what constitutes romantic love and how it is developed and displayed differs from culture to culture. Individualist cultures perceive romantic love as a positive attribute to ones[grammar?] life, whereas collectivist cultures can perceive it as a negative attribute. Acknowledging and understanding these differences can improve one's life through increased awareness and acceptance of different cultures.
  • Ultimately from reading this chapter hopefully you have gained a greater understanding of romantic love, its motivational properties and how it differs from culture to culture. Knowing this information may lead you to think more openly about cultural differences of romantic love.

Quiz[edit | edit source]


1 According to Sternberg's Triangular theory of love (1986), what 2 components make up Romantic love?

Passion + Commitment
Intimacy + Passion
Commitment + Intimacy
Commitment + Intimacy + Passion

2 The evolutionary perspective suggests that we are motivated to experience romantic love due to...

our psychological thoughts and the influence of our social surroundings.
our physiological need to experience sex and the release of hormones which are associated with the facilitation of feelings of happiness.
the influence of our culture.
the instinctual nature to ensure production and development of offspring.

3 According to the findings of Jankowiak and Fischer's study (1992), romantic love is... ?

nearly universal.
only seen in western cultures.
only seen in eastern cultures.

4 Which of the following is NOT typically considered a reason to seek a romantic relationship in an individualistic culture?

I want to find someone who will make me happy.
I want to make my family proud.
I want to be loved.
I want to experience romantic love as I it will help me achieve my personal goals.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Brennan, K. A., & Shaver, P. R. (1995). Dimensions of adult attachment, affect regulation, and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(3), 267-283. doi:10.1177/0146167295213008

Buss, D. M., & Kenrick, D. T., (1998). Evolutionary social psychology. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9832-0.

Crane, D., & Kauffman, M. (1998). Friends – Season 5 [Television series]. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Television.

Diamond, L. M. (2004). Emerging perspectives on distinctions between romantic love and sexual desire. Current directions in psychological science,13(3), 116-119. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00287.x

Dion, K. K., & Dion, K. L. (1996). Cultural perspectives on romantic love. Personal Relationships, 3(1), 5-17. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1996.tb00101.x

Gonzaga, G. C., Turner, R. A., Keltner, D., Campos, B., & Altemus, M. (2006). Romantic love and sexual desire in close relationships. Emotion, 6(2), 163. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.6.2.163.

Gottschall, J., & Nordlund, M. (2006). Romantic love: A literary universal?. Philosophy and Literature, 30(2), 450-470. doi:10.1353/phl.2006.0030.

Harlow, H. F., & Harlow, M. (1966). Learning to love. American Scientist, 244-272.

Hendrick, C., & Hendrick, S. (1986). A theory and method of love. Journal of personality and social psychology, 50(2), 392. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.50.2.392

Jankowiak, W. R., & Fischer, E. F. (1992). A cross-cultural perspective on romantic love. Ethnology, 149-155. doi:10.2307/3773618

Kim, J., & Hatfield, E. (2004). Love types and subjective well-being: A cross-cultural study. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 32(2), 173-182.

Levine, R., Sato, S., Hashimoto, T., & Verma, J. (1995). Love and marriage in eleven cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26(5), 554-571. doi:10.1177/0022022195265007

Luhrmann, B. (Director), Shakespeare, W. (Play writer) & Pearce, C. (Screenplay writer). (1996). Romeo + Juliet [Motion picture]. Australia: Bazmark productions, 20th Century Fox.

Rubin, Z. (1970). Measurement of romantic love. Journal of personality and social psychology, 16(2), 265. doi:10.1037/h0029841

Schmitt, D. P., Alcalay, L., Allensworth, M., Allik, J., Ault. L., Austers, I., … & Kardum, I. (2004). Patterns and Universals of Adult Romantic Attachment Across 62 Cultural Regions, are models of self and of other pancultural constructs?. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35(4), 367-402. doi:10.1177/0022022104266105

Shaver, P. R., Wu, S., & Schwartz, J. C. (1992). Cross-cultural similarities and differences in emotion and its representation: A prototype approach. In M. S. Clark (Ed.), Emotion (pp. 175-212). Newbury Park: Sage.

Simmons, C. H., Vom Kolke, A., & Shimizu, H. (1986). Attitudes toward Romantic Love among American, German, and Japanese students. Journal of Social Psychology, 125(3), 327.

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119-135. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119

Triandis, H. C., Bontempo, R., Villareal, M. J., Asai, M., & Lucca, N. (1988). Individualism and collectivism: Cross-cultural perspectives on self-ingroup relationships. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 54(2), 323-338. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.2.323

External links[edit | edit source]