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Emotions and Culture

Expression of Emotions
• Correspondence with some facial expressions
• Darwin: universality of facial expressions of
adaptiveness/communicative value
• Anger, disgust, sadness, fear,
• Humans are born with the capacity to express
the same set of emotions in the same ways:
universality studies/Paul Ekman, Izzard and
Cultural Differences in Facial
• Cultural Display Rules (Ekman and Friesen):
Culturally specific/appropriateness of displaying
each of the emotions in particular social
• The rules are learned/show how the universal
emotional expressions should be modified
according to the situation
• Study with Americans and Japanese watching
stressful films and being videotaped alone and in
the presence of an authority figure
• Theoretical framework:
• Matsumoto: in-groups vs. out-groups
• Collectivistic cultures: more positive and fewer
negative emotions towards in-groups because
harmony is important
• Individualistic cultures: harmony not as important
so it is acceptable to display negative emotions
towards in-groups.
• For out-groups: Individualistic cultures display
more positive and less negative emotions/the
opposite for collectivistic cultures
Culture and Emotion Perception
• Emotion and intensity in facial expression is universally
• Strong association between perceived expression
intensity and inferences about subjective experience
• However, some differences were found in the recognition
of emotions
• Reason/why?
• Individualism and collectivism. Ex: Americans are better
in recognizing negative emotions than Japanese.
• Individualism: can predict recognition of happiness
• Cultural decoding rules: culturally learned rules about
how to perceive facial expressions
Culture and the Experience of
• Some universality but also differences. Why?
• Collectivism: Shame vs. guilt/collectivists are not
shame cultures
• GNP correlated with emotions: poorer countries
felt longer lasting and more intense and based
on the past
• Kitayama and Marcus: Functionalist approach:
Emotions can be classified as those that
encourage independence vs. interdependence.
• Culture shapes emotions through socialization
(cultural scripts)
• Indigenous emotions:
• Fago (Ifaluk/Macronesia): socially
engaged emotion: compassion, love,
• Ker (Ifaluk): happiness, socially
disengaged emotion
• Amae(Japan): dependence, expecting
others’ indulgence, benevolence,
favor/socially engaged emotion
• Are emotions culturally constructed or
• Basic vs. wide range of emotions
• Basic emotions that have corresponding
facial expressions: universal
• When studying a wider range of emotions
we see cross-cultural differences in the
subjective experience of emotion
Antecedents of Emotion
• What triggers an emotion? Are causes of emotions pan-
cultural? Do the same events cause an emotion across
• Universality studies: (Scherer et al).
• There are also differences in events that trigger
emotions across cultures. EX: problems with
relationship are more sadness producing among
Japanese than Americans/Europeans and more anger
producing among Japanese
• Emotion elicitors can be both universal and culturally
specific. How can we explain that?

• Matsumoto: Latent vs. manifest content of events that trigger
• We need to know what is the psychological meaning (latent content)
of events (manifest content) for the individual?
• Research suggests that similarity in the latent content of events and
situations produces similar emotions. Ex: Loss of object or loved
one elicits sadness and perception of an event as obstruction of
justice or fairness elicits anger
• However, there is lack of one-to-one correspondence between
manifest and latent content in events cross-culturally. Ex: Death
(manifest content) may trigger sadness and grief in one culture (loss
of a loved one: latent content) but happiness in another
(achievement of a spiritual goal: latent content)
• Also the same latent theme (ex: being kept from achieving
something you want) may be associated with one event in culture A
(low grades) and another event ( snow blizzard) in culture B.
Culture and Emotion Appraisal
• Evaluation of events and situations that lead to emotional states.
(Relationship between thinking about an event and emotions that
are triggered by that thinking)
• Are there any cultural similarities/differences in emotion appraisal?
• Similarities: in dimensions (pleasantness, certainty, effort, attention,
perceived control of others appropriateness and control of
circumstances) that elicit emotions (universality across cultures)
• Evidence of universality in appraisal: Appraisals of powerlessness
elicit anger and fear/appraisals of power differences bring about
anger. If situation is evaluated as caused by someone else it elicits
anger whereas if evaluated as caused by circumstances, it elicits
fear and sadness but not anger. (Americans and Indians)
• Emotion appraisal and emotions antecedents closely associated.
• Cultural differences in appraisals:
• Ex: Americans appraise events as being more within
their control and attribute sadness causing events to
others whereas Japanese make self attributions for
sadness causing events.
• Indians more likely than Americans to feel less
responsible and less in control of situations that lead to
negative outcomes.
• In general: universality in appraisals about less complex
situations and emotions, but differences in relation to
complex appraisal dimensions that involve norms of
morality and fairness
Culture and Language of Emotion
• Does the word “emotion” mean the same thing across
cultures? Do people from different cultures agree on a
common definition and understanding of emotion? Do
the perceptions, expressions, feelings and situations that
we call “emotion” represent the same class of
phenomena in other cultures?
• Do all languages have a word for emotion? The Ifaluks
of Micronesia do not have a word that corresponds to
the word “emotion” and Samoans do not have a word for
emotion but do have a word that is equivalent to
“feelings” and sensations.
• Not all cultures have a word for “emotion” and among
those who do, it may not mean the same thing as the
English word “emotion”
• How can we explain the fact that languages
contain words about certain emotions with no
corresponding words in other languages of the
same emotion? (Ex: Schadenfreude in German
or amae in Japanese have no corresponding
words in English)
• Relative importance of hat emotion in that
particular culture/different categorization of
emotional states across cultures.
• Location of emotions: In the US it is the heart,
among Japanese it is in the gut or abdomen.
• Other cultures place emotions outside the body,
for ex. in social relationships. For example an
emotion may be applied to a particular situation,
even if the individual does not feel it.
• That different cultures put the feeling of
emotions in different parts of the body means
that emotions are understood differently and
have different meanings for different cultures.