Book/ Chapter 3
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The construction of emotions in the West
Plato, who thought emotions arise from the lower part of the mind and pervert reason. The distrust
was brought into the modern era by Darwin who implied that, in human adults, expressions of
emotions are obsolete, vestiges of our evolution from the beasts and of our development from
These stances toward emotion, distrust on the one hand apprediation on the other, are constructions
of Western culture. The appreciation beames marked in Europe and America, during the historical
era of Romanticism. In the Romantic era promotions came to be valued in personal life, in
politics, in literature, and in philosophy.
Jean-Jacques Roosseau first published the idea that religious sensibility is based on how you feel
rather than on authority, or on scripture, or on arguments for the existence of God. He it was who
began to attack cultivated pursuits as artificial and corrupting: he proposed instead that education
should be natural, and that people’s natural emotions indicate what is right – they have merely to
be alive to the feelings of their conscience.
The Romantics were fascinated by the natural. Wild scenery, previously thought barbarous, began
to be valued. Writers began to explore the worlds of ordinary life, rather than the artificial lives of
The elements of a cultural approach to emotion
That theme is that values, concepts, and ideas about the self, as expressed in art forms, rituals,
social practices and institutions, shape how members of particular societies experience emotion,
and that these matters are not universal. Our beliefs about emotion in the West, that emotions are
both irrational and also authentic aspects of the true self, are products of a [articular culture: the
culture of Europe and North America, which is different, for instance, from the belief systems of
the people Catherine Lutz met on Ifaluk.
Most importantly, a cultural approach involves the assumption that emotions are constructed
primarily by the processes of culture.
The more radical claim is that emotions derive from human meanings which are necessarily
A second assumption of some cultural approaches is that emotions can be thought of as roles that
people fulfill to play out culture-specific identities and relationships.
Batja Mesquita, a pioneer in the study of emotion and culture, contends that cultural approaches
focus on the “practice” of emotion, in contrast to the “potential” for emotion. Potential means
asking whether people of different cultures, if put in an appropriate experimental situation, would
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be capable of showing certain universal emotional responses in terms of experience, expression,
and physiology. The answer is probably yes. In contrast, “practice” refers to what actually happens
in people’s emotional lives.
The self-construal approach: independent and interdependent selves
The Declaration of Independence prioritized the rights and freedoms of the individual, and it
protected the individual from having those rights and liberties infringed by others. Confucius
emphasized the importance of knowing one’s place in society, of honouring traditions and roles,
and of thinking of others before the self.
Hazel Markus, Shinobo Kitayama, Harry Triandis and others have characterizes two different kinds
Within the independent self-construal, the self is autonomous and separate from others. This type
of self-construal is also sometimes referred to as individualism.
For people with interdependent, or collectivist, self-construals, the self is fundamentally connected
with other people.
So how do these culture-specific self-construals lead to cultural variation in emotions? First let us
consider anger. In Japan, although it is thought appropriate between people from different social
groups, for instance in the tradition of samurai warfare in feudal Japan, Markus, and Kitiyama
report that anger is considered highly inappropriate between relations or colleagues. By contrast,
anger between Americans who know and like each other is relatively common and accepted.
Averill found in Massachusetts, by means of people keeping diaries structured like questionnaires,
that incidents of anger occurred about once a week.
Independent and interdependent self-construals appear to be at work in culture-related differences
in the evaluation of a more positive emotion.
Amae is an emotion of interdependence, arising from a kind of merged togetherness, from comfort
in the other person’s complete acceptance.
See table 3.1
The values approach
A second approach seeks to understand cultural differences in emotion in terms of differences in
values, which refer to broad principles that govern our social behaviour.
In Japan, makoto, means something different: doing a social duty not according to inner feelings,
but doing it completely, with expertise, without inner conflict.
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