Relational mobility

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Relational mobility is a sociological variable that represents how much freedom individuals have to choose which persons to have relationships with, including friendships, working relationships, and romantic partnerships in a given society. Societies with low relational mobility have less flexible interpersonal networks. People form relationships based on circumstance rather than active choice. In these societies, relationships are more stable and guaranteed, while there are fewer opportunities to leave unsatisfying relationships and find new ones. Group memberships tend to be fixed, and individuals have less freedom to select or change these relationships even if they wished to.

In contrast, societies with high relational mobility give people choice and freedom to select or leave interpersonal relationships based on their personal preferences. Such relationships are based on mutual agreement and are not guaranteed to last. Individuals have many opportunities to meet new people and to choose whom they interact with or which groups they belong to in such societies.[1][2]

Relational mobility is conceived as a socioecological factor, which means that it depends on the social and natural environment. The theory of relational mobility has attracted increased interest since the early 2000's because it has been found to explain important cross-cultural differences in people's behavior and way of thinking.[3]

The relational mobility scale[edit]

The relational mobility scale is a sociometric scale used for measuring relational mobility in population surveys. This scale is based on a series of questions asking people not about their own situation, but the situation of people around them such as friendship groups, hobby groups, sports teams, and companies. The questions are probing to what degree these people are able to choose the people whom they interact with in their daily life, according to their own preferences.[1]

Geographic differences[edit]

Relational mobility is low in cultures with subsistence styles that put people in tight relationships with reciprocal duties such as farming that requires coordination of labor. The growing of paddy rice, in particular, requires tight coordination of labor and irrigation. The lowest level of relational mobility is found in East Asian countries where rice farming is a prevailing means of subsistence. A comparative study has found significant differences in ways of thinking between areas in China dominated by rice farming and areas dominated by wheat farming. This difference could not be explained well by other theories.[4]

On the opposite side of the spectrum is nomadic herding. Herders move frequently, meaning that they have fewer stable, long-term relationships and more opportunities to form and break relationships. Studies have shown that herding cultures emphasize more individual decision making while nearby farming and fishing cultures emphasize harmonious social interdependence and holistic thinking.[5]

A large cross-cultural study has found that relational mobility is lowest in Each Asian countries where rice farming is common. The relational mobility is higher in industrialized European countries and English-speaking countries, while it is highest in South American countries. This study found a strong correlation between relational mobility and subsistence style, and a somewhat weaker correlation with environmental threats that require group cohesion and cooperation.[1]

Consequences for people's behavior and way of thinking[edit]

People in cultures with low relational mobility are careful to avoid conflicts and disagreements in order to maintain harmony in the social groups that they cannot escape. They are careful not to offend others in order to avoid a bad reputation. Thus, the cultural preference for conformity, which is common in East Asian cultures, is actually a strategy to avoid bad reputation and social exclusion.[6] People in these cultures are more sensitive to social rejection[7] and more likely to feel ashamed towards their friends (but not towards strangers) in order to mitigate information that may damage their reputation.[8]

The degree of relational mobility is influencing people's way of thinking. A low relational mobility is leading to cognitive tendencies that theorists call holistic thinking, while high relational mobility is associated with analytic thinking. This difference in social cognition is defined as a difference in how people attribute their own and others’ behavior to either internal causes (the actors’ dispositions) or external causes (situational factors). Individuals’ need to coordinate their actions and avoid conflict makes salient the influence of external forces, including powerful others in the environment, on their own situation. An external locus of control is typical of cultures with low relational mobility. People pay more attention to situational factors and to chance, fate, and luck than to individual dispositions in these cultures. In contrast, high relational mobility is associated with an internal locus of control with more focus on the individual and less focus on the social environment.[9]

Social relationships and group memberships are more easily formed and terminated in cultures with high relational mobility. Interpersonal connections are here based on mutual convenience and thus less stable and reliable.[9] Less importance is placed on job security, while also divorce is more common and more accepted.[1] People invest more effort in attracting, forming, and maintaining social bonds where relationships cannot be taken for granted. People exhibit more self-enhancement behavior and higher self-esteem here in order to advertise their value as companions and to facilitate the forming of social bonds.[10] People are more prone to develop personal uniqueness in high relational mobility societies in order to increase their value in the market-like competition for social relationships. Idiosyncratic behavior is less common in low relational mobility societies where it may lead to ostracism.[11]

People tend to invest more in maintaining friendships as well as romantic partnerships where relational mobility is high, because the stability of the bond cannot be taken for granted. This bonding behavior includes helping, intimacy, passion, and gift-giving.[12][13][14] People even disclose personal information to friends in order to show their commitment to the relationship.[15]

There are different ways of dealing with uncertainty about the quality of a potential partner or collaborator. In low relational mobility societies such as Japan, firms often maintain long-term relations with loyal partners even if better deals with new partners could be obtained. Business strategies tend to be different in societies with higher relational mobility, such as North America, where new relationships are formed based on trust. There is higher risk in new business relationships, but also more to gain by finding a potentially better business partner than one already has.[16] In general, the level of interpersonal trust has been found to be higher in societies with high relational mobility, not only in business relations, but also in general interpersonal relations and on social media.[1][17]

Animal analogies[edit]

The theory of relational mobility has analogies in the mating behavior, cooperation behavior, and inter-species symbiosis among animals. It has been observed that such behavior is adjusted to the stability of the relationships, the degree of competition on the relationship "market", and the possibilities for cheating among a variety of species, including birds and insects.[1][18]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Thomson, Robert; et al. (2018). "Relational mobility predicts social behaviors in 39 countries and is tied to historical farming and threat". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115 (29): 7521–7526. Bibcode:2018PNAS..115.7521T. doi:10.1073/pnas.1713191115. PMC 6055178. PMID 29959208.
  2. ^ Yuki, Masaki; Schug, Joanna (2012). "Relational mobility: A socioecological approach to personal relationships". In Gillath, O.; Adams, G.; Kunkel, A. (eds.). Relationship Science: Integrating Evolutionary, Neuroscience, and Sociocultural Approaches. American Psychological Association. pp. 137–151. doi:10.1037/13489-007. hdl:2115/52726. ISBN 978-1-4338-1123-4. S2CID 53496958.
  3. ^ "Relational Mobility". Relational Mobility Website. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  4. ^ Talhelm, Thomas; et al. (2014). "Large-scale psychological differences within China explained by rice versus wheat agriculture". Science. 344 (6184): 603–608. Bibcode:2014Sci...344..603T. doi:10.1126/science.1246850. PMID 24812395. S2CID 206552838.
  5. ^ Uskul, Ayse K.; Kitayama, Shinobu; Nisbett, Richard E. (2008). "Ecocultural basis of cognition: Farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (25): 8552–8556. Bibcode:2008PNAS..105.8552U. doi:10.1073/pnas.0803874105. PMC 2438425. PMID 18552175.
  6. ^ Yamagishi, Toshio; Hashimoto, Hirofumi; Schug, Joanna (2008). "Preferences versus strategies as explanations for culture-specific behavior". Psychological Science. 19 (6): 579–584. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02126.x. PMID 18578848. S2CID 3273290.
  7. ^ Sato, Kosuke; Yuki, Masaki; Norasakkunkit, Vinai (2014). "A socio-ecological approach to cross-cultural differences in the sensitivity to social rejection: The partially mediating role of relational mobility". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 45 (10): 1549–1560. doi:10.1177/0022022114544320. S2CID 145394000.
  8. ^ Sznycer, Daniel; et al. (2012). "Cross-Cultural Differences and Similarities in Proneness to Shame: An Adaptationist and Ecological Approach". Evolutionary Psychology. 10 (2): 352–370. doi:10.1177/147470491201000213. PMC 3604996. PMID 22947644.
  9. ^ a b San Martin, Alvaro; Schug, Joanna; Maddux, William W. (2019). "Relational mobility and cultural differences in analytic and holistic thinking". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 116 (4): 495–518. doi:10.1037/pspa0000142. PMID 30614727. S2CID 58601844.
  10. ^ Falk, Carl F.; Heine, Steven J.; Yuki, Masaki; Takemura, Kosuke (2009). "Why do Westerners self-enhance more than East Asians?". European Journal of Personality. 23 (3): 183–203. doi:10.1002/per.715. S2CID 30477227.
  11. ^ Takemura, Kosuke (2014). "Being different leads to being connected: On the adaptive function of uniqueness in "open" societies". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 45 (10): 1579–1593. doi:10.1177/0022022114548684. S2CID 53985677.
  12. ^ Yamada, Junko; Kito, Mie; Yuki, Masaki (2015). "Relational mobility and intimacy in friendships and romantic relationships: A cross-societal study between Canada and Japan". Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 55 (1): 18–27. doi:10.2130/jjesp.1409.
  13. ^ Yamada, Junko; Kito, Mie; Yuki, Masaki (2017). "Passion, relational mobility, and proof of commitment: A comparative socio–ecological analysis of an adaptive emotion in a sexual market". Evolutionary Psychology. 15 (4). doi:10.1177/1474704917746056. PMC 10480844. PMID 29237298. S2CID 9220858.
  14. ^ Komiya, Asuka; Ohtsubo, Yohsuke; Nakanishi, Daisuke; Oishi, Shigehiro (2019). "Gift-giving in romantic couples serves as a commitment signal: Relational mobility is associated with more frequent gift-giving". Evolution and Human Behavior. 40 (2): 160–166. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.10.003. S2CID 149744620.
  15. ^ Schug, Joanna; Yuki, Masaki; Maddux, William (2010). "Relational mobility explains between-and within-culture differences in self-disclosure to close friends". Psychological Science. 21 (10): 1471–1478. doi:10.1177/0956797610382786. hdl:2115/47193. PMID 20817913. S2CID 21074390.
  16. ^ Yamagishi, Toshio; Yamagishi, Midori (1994). "Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan". Motivation and Emotion. 18 (2): 129–166. doi:10.1007/BF02249397. S2CID 144863790.
  17. ^ Thomson, Robert; Yuki, Masaki; Ito, Naoya (2015). "A socio-ecological approach to national differences in online privacy concern: The role of relational mobility and trust". Computers in Human Behavior. 51: 285–292. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.068.
  18. ^ Noë, Ronald; Hammerstein, Peter (1994). "Biological markets: supply and demand determine the effect of partner choice in cooperation, mutualism and mating". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 35 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1007/BF00167053. S2CID 37085820.