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C117 /3515 /2014



NOVEMBER 13, 2015
Discuss How Emotions are expressed Across Cultures
An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components:
a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioural or expressive response."
(Cofer, 1972). Emotion involves feeling, thinking, and activation of the nervous system,
physiological changes, and behavioural changes such as facial expressions. People express
emotions not only through speech but also through nonverbal behaviour, or body language.
Nonverbal behaviour includes facial expressions, postures, and gestures.
The psychologist Paul Ekman and his colleagues have identified six basic emotions:
happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Worldwide, most people can identify
the facial expressions that correspond to these emotions. Some research suggests that the
genders differ in how much emotion they express. In North America, women appear to


display more emotion than men do (Diener & Choi, 2009). Anger is an exception (i.e. men
tend to express anger more than women, particularly toward strangers).
This gender difference in expressiveness is not absolute. It depends on gender roles,
cultural norms, and context:
For both men and women, having a non-traditional gender role leads to increased
emotional expressiveness.
In some cultures, women and men are equally expressive.
In some contexts, men and women do not differ in expressiveness. For example,
neither a man nor a woman is likely to express anger toward someone more powerful
than himself or herself.
Similarities among Cultures
Some aspects of emotion are universal to all cultures, while other aspects differ across
cultures. Kovecses, (2000) asserts that people in different cultures can identify the six basic
emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. The physiological indicators
of emotion are similar in people from different cultures. Facial expressions are innate. This is
the reason why both people who can see and people who have been blind since birth have
similar facial expressions of emotions. This observation suggests that facial expressions are
innate, since blind people could not have learned these expressions by observing others.
Differences among Cultures
Although many emotions and expressions of emotions are universal, some differences
exist among cultures:
Categories of Emotions
People in different cultures categorize emotions differently. Some languages have
labels for emotions that are not labelled in other languages. For example, Tahitians do not
have a word for sadness. Germans have a word, schadenfreude, indicating joy at someone
elses misfortune, which has no equivalent in English.
Prioritization of Emotions
Different cultures consider different emotions to be primary. For instance, Shame is
considered a key emotion in some non-Western cultures, but it is less likely to be considered
a primary emotion in many Western cultures.
Different Emotions Evoked


The same situation may evoke different emotions in different cultures. This is why a
pork chop served for dinner might evoke disgust in the majority of people in Saudi Arabia,
while it is likely to provoke happiness in many people in the United States.
Differences in Nonverbal Expressions
Nonverbal expressions of emotion differ across cultures, due partly to the fact that
different cultures have different display rules. Display rules are norms that tell people
whether, which, how, and when emotions should be displayed. In the United States, male
friends usually do not embrace and kiss each other as a form of greeting. Such behaviour
would make most American men uncomfortable or even angry. In many European countries,
however, acquaintances normally embrace and kiss each other on both cheeks, and avoiding
this greeting would seem unfriendly.
Power of Cultural Norms
Cultural norms determine how and when to show emotions that are not actually felt.
Acting out an emotion that is not felt is called emotion work. For instance, in some cultures,
it is appropriate for people who attend a funeral to show extreme grief (Cacciatore &
DeFrain, 2015). In others, it is appropriate to appear stoic.
The Kisii Community
The Kisii (also known as Abagusii) is a community of Bantu people who inhabit two
counties: Kisii (formerly Kisii District) and Nyamira in Nyanza Province, Western Kenya.
Gusii is the fond reference to their homeland and Mogusii is culturally identified as their
founder and patriarch.
There are similar and distinctive expression of emotions among the Kisii community,
when compared to other communities in Kenya. Abagusii identify the six basic emotions of
happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. In addition to that, they also have other
categorizations of emotions such as envy (endamwamu). Just like most non-western cultures,
shame is considered a very important emotion. This is the reason why women are supposed to
be dressed "decently" when in the presence of men (Wanjala et al., 1986). It is a common
practice for women to wear clothes that cover the whole of their thighs as a show of respect,
especially when making a public appearance.


There are some Kisii delicacies that are hated by some cultures. One of such example
is Cleome gynandra (a green vegetable). This wildflower is considered a weed in many places
in the U.S and elsewhere in the Pacific. Therefore, serving an American with Cleome
gynandra might stir feelings of repulsion. However, serving the same meal (chinsaga) to a
Kisii will provoke feelings of happiness satisfaction.
Although Gusii men have the reputation of being hot tempered, "Gusii" men are not
much different from men elsewhere in Kenya (Hakansson et al., 2007). This is just a
stereotype that exists among the many, regarding most Kenya tribes.
The Luyhia Community
In the Luyia community, the expression of fear as an emotion differs between men
and women. In this society, women are taken to be highly fearful and therefore perceived as
inferior. On the other hand, men tend to be the bravest just like in most of the other African
societies. For example, if there is an attack by a wild animal, men are the ones who come out
to fight the animal (Mukhule, 2013). When the community is been attacked by another
community, men stand out and fight back. They are considered the ones who protect their
family from any attack. Women and children are considered feeble and therefore they are
under protection of a man in the family. Therefore, men are brave and women and children
are fearful.
When it comes to the emotion of sorrow, men are not supposed to show grief
outwardly. In Luhya community, men are considered as strong individuals in the society. For
instance, when death befalls a family, men are expected to stand strong. They are not
supposed to cry in public. Nonetheless, women and children are allowed to freely express
their feelings of sorrow by crying aloud and doing all sort of things to express their sadness.
The community expects men to stand strong and offer support to the rest of the family
members in such a difficult time.

Western Culture vs Eastern Culture


Americans believe in the social script of maximizing positive emotion and

minimizing negative emotions, whilst the Japanese believe in finding a balance between the
two (i.e. positive and negative).
These norms are experienced from the onset of pre-school. For example, American
storybooks for kids portray excitement with many activities as opposed to the Japanese
storybooks that display lesser emotion. This is witnessed in some American bestselling books
that tend to display more excitement and arousal.
Culture also influences the ways in emotions are experienced, depending upon which
emotions are valued in that specific culture. The highly individualised American believe that
emotions like happiness are achieved internally. As a result, the self should attain such
emotions. This is in contrast to the Japanese and other Asian cultures that profess the idea of
happiness based on being in harmony and sharing with other in the community. This is the
reason why when you ask Americas about their emotions they are likely to give answers like
"I feel sad", "I feel angry" and the like (Suleiman, 1986). On the other hand, the Japanese will
say that they would like to feel the joy with the others in the community.
In the West (Americans), mothers are inclined to focus on the success of their
children. Mothers in the Eastern culture have however been socialized to focus on the
discipline inculcated in their children, rather than the mere grades scored in schoolwork.
Americans believe in sharing their emotions, hiding them is unhealthy since it leads to
distress. Conversely, the Japanese encourage bottling-up ones emotions especially in the
event that they do not fit within ones group. According to Hitti (1947), being able to hide
ones emotions within the Eastern cultural setup, especially if such emotions are likely to
cause dissonance within the community is considered mature and appropriate.
Interpretation of emotions differs with different cultures. For example in the American
setup, happiness in signifies high excitement and cheerfulness while the related Hindu word
sukhi is used to imply peace and happiness. As seen from this example, cultures might have
the same categorization of emotions but its quality and interpretation may differ.


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