Are Americans more loving?
I love the large cross-cultural surveys done by evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt and his colleagues at Bradley University. His latest adds evidence to the conviction that love is universal. Repeat: love is universal. To be universal, there must be a evolutionary reason — in other words, it must help our species to perpetuate somehow. As Schmitt explains:
Love can rivet our attention to a single mate, instigate the process of romantic flirtation, lead to systematic patterns of courtship behavior, and on occasion culminate in marriage. Love helps parents bond in healthy ways with newborn offspring, leads to informative adolescent infatuations before more serious romantic pursuits, and serves as a social glue for functional interchanges of support amongst family and friends.
But even if love is universal, there are some very interesting cultural distinctions that emerge in the study. Here are a few outcomes/insights derived from the answers of 15,234 participants from 48 nations:
Nationality affects emotional investment, an indicator of love. As measured by an Emotional Investment Scale, countries in which people scored highest are the United States, Slovenia, and Cyprus. Low-scoring nations were Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Focusing on men alone, the countries with the most emotionally invested males are the United States, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Philippines, and Greece.
The countries with the most emotionally invested women are Slovenia, the United States, Malta, Cyprus, Australia, and Argentina.
In almost every country, women reported higher levels of emotional investment than did men. But there are a few notable exceptions: In Bolivia, men and women were identical in their average levels of Emotional Investment, and Malaysia, men scored higher than women (though not significantly so). The researchers suggest there is something restricting women’s reporting of their romantic investment in these two cultures.
Oddly, sex differences in emotional Investment were larger in nations with high gender equality (e.g., Switzerland, Australia, and Germany) and were smaller in nations with low gender equality (e.g., Turkey, South Korea, and Bolivia). The researchers claim: “What appears to be happening is that greater gender equality is associated with higher Emotional Investment among both men and women, but the accentuating effects of gender equality on Emotional Investment are greater among women, leading to larger levels of the naturally-occurring sex difference in Emotional Investment.”
Stress reduces emotional investment. In cultures with high stress (e.g., Bolivia, Indonesia, and Malaysia), levels of Emotional Investment were significantly lower, especially among women. High national levels of stress (Infant Mortality rates, Childhood Malnutrition rates, and the Pathogen Stress experienced in local environments) —were also linked to lower levels of Emotional Investment. This is predicted by evolutionary theory: harsh conditions lead people to develop insecure attachment levels that result in lower emotional investment.
Emotional investment doesn’t lead to higher fertility rates.To the contrary: countries with lower emotional investment levels among women were related to higher fertility levels.
Countries scoring high in emotional investment don’t have stronger marriages. To the contrary: national levels of emotional investment were positively correlated with divorce rate, unrestricted sociosexuality, short-term mating interests, and the tendency to engage in short-term mate poaching (i.e., stealing someone else’s partner for a short-term sexual affair)
Emotional investment is linked with commitment, but there are nationwide exceptions. Individuals from North America who reported more unrestricted sociosexuality reported lower levels of emotional investment. Similar results were observed within the world regions of South America, Eastern Europe, and Oceania. However, unrestricted sociosexual individuals from South/Southeast Asia and East Asia reported higher levels of emotional investment. Moreover, individuals from Africa who were interested in short-term mating reported significantly higher levels of emotional investment.
Emotional investment peaks when dating one person. It’s somewhat lower among those who are living with someone, married, or currently single (in that order); and is significantly lower than that among those who have never had sex.
Schmitt admits that people from different cultures may express emotional investment differently (have different response biases) and in ways hard to quantify on a standardized scale. Moreover, the questions were written in English and translated into the native languages of the participants. Could this possibly bias the U.S. results — or are Americans really more loving?
(My book, BLONDES, provides a more detailed description of some of Schmitt’s fascinating work with the International Sexuality Description Project.)