How to win (and lose) friendships across cultures: Why relational mobility matters

The two points above refer primarily to the acquisition of desirable relationships in high relational mobility societies. Our third point refers to the retention of current relationships: In high relational mobility societies, self-disclosure (revealing sensitive information about the self) appears to be a good strategy to retain current close friends (Schug et al., 2010). That is, by telling a close friend about your most embarrassing experience, for example, this demonstrates your willingness to be vulnerable with that friend. This in turn communicates your commitment to your friendship. And if your friend sees that you're committed to them, they’re more likely to respond in kind. Of course, there is the risk that your friend might be put off by your admission: “You did what?! What an idiot.” But even if a person’s self-disclosure leads to rejection, in a high relational mobility society, there are still plenty of options to make new friends. In this way, the benefit of self-disclosure (solidifying an otherwise unstable friendship) outweighs the potential cost (rejection) in high relational mobility societies. In low relational mobility societies, this cost-benefit situation is reversed: there are few opportunities to make new friends if you get rejected, so best to keep those potentially embarrassing admissions to yourself.

Extra info box 2 – Case closed?

There are a few issues which still need to be addressed in future research into relational mobility. First is the measurement of relational mobility. Some possible indicators (such as residential mobility, number of recent new friends etc) exist, but these indicators measure actual movement, rather than potential movement. They also confuse personal mobility with societal relational mobility: For example, an extrovert might more frequently make new friends than an introvert. One solution is Masaki Yuki and colleagues’ relational mobility scale (Yuki et al., 2007). This scale asks people their perceptions of how relationally mobile others are around them. Also, researchers are not 100% sure about what causes variation in relational mobility. Is it due to recent histories of residential mobility as alluded to above? Or is it due to changes in technology (such as railways, communications etc)? Furthermore, in what way do people notice and adapt to changes in relational mobility (see Zhang & Li, 2014)? Questions such as these make this an exciting area of current research.


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