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Psychology A2 - A Grade Essays - Relationships

Updated on June 4, 2014

Discuss sex differences in parental investment (24 marks)

Parental investment is defined as “any investment made by the parent in an individual offspring that increases the offspring’s chance of survival.” There are differences in how much each gender invests in their offspring, according to evolutionary theories. Female investment in a child is usually greater. This is because female’s can have limited offspring, whereas men can have potentially an unlimited offspring, as well as this, females also make a greater pre and post natal commitment. The female must carry and nourish the child for 9 months, and then continue breastfeeding and care for the baby once it is born, as the child cannot get this care from the male, the male’s investment is much less, as the male can “opt out” where the mother cannot. The investment made by mothers is also great, as human babies are more dependant and require more care, as they are born less developed than other species. A reason why male investment is less of that than females is because males are always at risk of cuckoldry – investing resources in another man’s child – where females are always certain the child is theirs (parental certainty). Therefore the males invest less in the child, to reduce the risk of cuckoldry and therefore reduce potential resource wasting. Additionally, the risk of cuckoldry means there is more concern from the males over the sexual fidelity of mates, so as their investment is well spent. Conversely, a women’s concern is more prominently over emotional fidelity, as they want to increase the male investment in the child, so the child has good resources, which increases the chance of offspring survival.

However there are some problems with this explanation of sex differences for example, although according to the evolutionary theory men invest less than women in offspring, research suggests that in modern relationships, the investment in children from the mother and father is very similar. The theory itself does not take into account modern relationships or relationships in different cultures. For example, in westerns cultures women tend to be more promiscuous than non-western cultures. This goes against the evolutionary theory which suggests that women are picky with who they sleep with in order to get the best genes for their offspring. However, this may be due to the fact that birth control is much more readily available in western cultures or the fact that women in western cultures may not uphold traditional values and may focus more on other things, such as their career, rather than having children.

In modern relationships cuckoldry is very commonplace, particularly in western societies, and is not seen as the problem this theory sets it out to be. It has also been found that men often do not discriminate financially between a child who was a stepchild in a current relationship, compared to their own child from a previous relationship. This shows that cuckoldry is not a problem in many modern societies, and therefore the explanation for sex differences is determinist in assuming a father will avoid making an investment in children that are not his own. It also demonstrates how parental certainty is not always an issue for human males. However this could be explained by sexual strategies theory that suggests that men may invest in a step child in order to convince the mother that he is a good provider therefore promoting future mating opportunities.

The theory of sex differences in parental investment is very reductionist, as it does not seek to explain why mothers make a great investment in adopted children, as in many cases, they are not infants and don’t require feeding or intense care. As well as this, it doesn’t explain the investment made in children in homosexual relationships, e.g. if a child has two fathers the theory does not explain how much each partner would invest. This suggests that investment is not solely determined by our evolutionary past but rather by our changing cultural values.

However, the theory is supported by research evidence. A study found that males were less biologically prepared than females to confront issues associated with parenting, as in the study they had increased heart rate and other signs of stress when confronted with situations involving parental investment. This supports theories that males are biologically programmed to make less of an investment in offspring than females. However, this study was very small scale, and used undergraduates who weren’t parents, this means that none would have had experience of making an investment in children, so therefore is not generalizable to show the investment of each gender in offspring.

Discuss the nature of relationships in different cultures (24 marks)

There are two different sections that we can divide the world’s cultures into; western and non-western. Western cultures have a different way of engaging in relationships to non-western cultures in that western romantic relationships tend to be individualistic, voluntary and temporary. This means that the relationships themselves are separate from the rest of the community and the people in the relationship are the ones that choose to initiate it and chose their partner. Also the idea that relationships are based on romantic love is much more prominent in western cultures compared to non-western cultures who will take into account other factors such as pressures from relatives, for resources or to have children. Divorce rates are also higher in the west because non-western cultures tend to uphold traditional values and not divorce even if they are not satisfied with the relationship.

Despite the fact that it is assumed that relationships based on romantic love are a tradition of western cultures, it has been argued that romantic love provides an evolutionary advantage and is thus seen in cultures all around the world. Being in a long term relationship provides happiness, decreased stress and decreased mortality. Research has found that romantic love exists in many non-western cultures, for example out of the 166 non-western tribes studied, 90% of them showed romantic love within their relationships. Also brain scans of people found that there is a functionally specialised system that lights up in people who are ‘in love’. This suggests that romantic love has evolved in relationships all around the world and thus is not just an element of relationships in western cultures. Another study that opposes the idea that western relationships tend to be based on romantic love is one that found that nearly 50% of Americans marry for reasons other than love, for example financial security and family pressures. This research suggests that western cultures may not be so encapsulated by the idea of romantic love than initially thought.

Also, the western ‘shift’ to more discontinuous and temporary relationships is relatively recent as 50 years ago divorce rates were very low – 2 in 1000 for British women in 1960. However divorce rates now are around 12 per 1000 which suggests that there is a shift within the society which may be due to greater urbanisation and mobility indicating that the differences between western and non-western cultures may be due to being urban/non-urban rather than being individualist/collectivist.

In contrast to western cultures, non-western cultures tend to be more collectivist, obligatory and permanent which means that the relationship is more public and part of the community. Parents or elders often put pressure on a couple to marry and divorce is often not allowed or frowned upon and traditional, more religious, values are held.

Research evidence supports the idea that non-western cultures tend to be more collectivist, for example it was found that Asian students were more logical, sought companionship and were less erotic than American students. This suggests that non-western cultures put more emphasis on logical reasons to commit to a person rather than just romantic love and thus supports the idea that they are more collectivist. However, the above study could be criticised for having culture bias as the tools used for analysing the relationships were developed in western cultures. This means that any results found in non-western cultures may be invalid due to imposed etic. The study is also ethnocentric because the experimenters may view their culture as the ‘norm’ and therefore have a distorted view of the other cultures that they are studying.


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