WHY BUILDING FRIENDSHIPS DIFFER ACROSS CULTURES: RELATIONAL MOBILITY
Culture has a big influence on many aspects of human behaviours including how we form and maintain relationships with others relate to our environment. One cultural construct which has been quite popular recently among researchers is relational mobility. In basic terms, relational mobility refers to the degree to which personal relationships and group memberships are formed through personal choice or environmental affordance.
In societies which are high in relational mobility such as the United States and Canada, people have many opportunities to meet new acquaintances and form new relationships. They direct their relationships according to their personal preferences rather than external restrictions. On the other hand, in places with low relational mobility such as East Asia and West Africa, friendships are mostly built as a result of environmental affordances rather than personal choice.
Our friendship processes are highly affected by the cultural differences in relational mobility. For example, when it comes to self-disclosure in relationships, people in societies with high relational mobility share a variety of aspects about their lives and disclosing oneself is usually more in-depth. Besides, in societies high in relational mobility like North America, people use self-disclosure as a strategy for maintaining their relationships.
Another cultural difference is risk propensity in friendships. Study findings indicate that in cultures with high relational mobility, people tend to show socially more risky behaviours in their relationships as compared to those in cultures with low relational mobility. Besides, people with perceived low relational mobility pay more attention to their enemies rather than friends and acquaintances.
All of these research findings show that the relationships we have established and the content of sharing we make can vary depending on the culture. Close relationships, therefore, can be better understood in the light of such cultural factors as relational mobility.
For more information:
Li, L. M. W., Hamamura, T., & Adams, G. (2016). Relational mobility increases social (but not other) risk propensity. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 29(5), 481-488.
Li, L. M. W., Masuda, T., & Lee, H. (2018). Low relational mobility leads to greater motivation to understand enemies but not friends and acquaintances. British Journal of Social Psychology, 57(1), 43-60.
Yuki, M., & Schug, J. (2012). Relational mobility: A socioecological approach to personal relationships.