Chapter 3 Cultural Understandings of Emotions
The construction of Emotions in the West
• Culture: is a system of ideas and practices that are held in common in a
particular society, or set of societies.
• A society: a group of people who live in a particular place at a particular time.
• Different stances created by western culture:
Plato: thought emotions arose from the lower part of the mind and pervert
Darwin brought distrust into the modern era: who implied that in human
adults expression of emotions is obsolete, vestiges of our evolution from
our hominid predecessors and of our development from infancy.
In the west we believe that emotions express authenticity and is a guide to
our true selves.
Robert Solomon: “emotions are the life force of the soul, the source of
most of our values”.
Emotions signal how events in our environment correspond to our core
concerns and interests.
• Romanticism: when Europe and America started appreciating emotions.
Emotions became valued in personal life, politics, literature and philosophy.
• JeanJacques Rousseau: first articulations of romantic spirit. Stated that
religious sensibility is based on how you feel rather than author, scripture or
on arguments for the existence of God. That peoples natural emotions are
what is right that people have merely to be alive to the feelings of the
conscience. His quote “ man is born free, and is everywhere in chains”
became the call to fuel the American war of independence.
• Frankenstein: is really about the emotions themes of romanticism, about the
artificial creatures an initial natural emotion of kindness. He works secretly to
help a family in a cottage. The creature expresses his natural emotion of rage
in reaction to how humans attack him for his unnatural ugliness. Then there is
his emotion of dependency towards the scientist (his creator). Themes of
romanticism: settings amid wild scenery, the emphasis on the natural, distrust
of artificial, humans overstepping their boundaries.
• The Romantic Movement we see core beliefs about emotions as primordial,
authentic causes of behaviour, beliefs that are alive today.
A cultural Approach to Emotions
• Cultural backgrounds (country, region, ethnicity or race, social class, religion,
gender) shape our emotions and vary.
• Cultural approach to emotions: assumption that primarily the processes of
culture construct emotions and how they are expressed is shaped by cultural
beliefs and practices. This in turn has an effect on history and the economy.
• A second assumption of some cultural approaches is that emotions can be
thought of as roles that people fulfill to play cultural specific identities and
relationships Averill argues that falling in love is a temporary social role.
Batja Mesquita: cultural approaches focus on the “practice” of emotion in
contrast to potential for. Potential: whether ppl in different cultures, put in
different situations, show a universal emotional expression (evolutionary
perspective: yes). Practice: refers to what actually happens in people
emotional lives (day to day, and what differs between cultures.
Selfconstrual: Independent and Interdependent Selves
• American declaration of independence prioritizes rights and freedoms of
individuals. And protect them from having them infringed upon by others.
Western society is concerned about their individuality, selfactualization,
freedom and selfexpression.
• Consucius emphasizes the importance of knowing ones place in society,
honouring traditions and role and thinking of others before ones self
In Asian cultures homilies and folk wisdom encourage a more cohesive
self with others.
• Hazel Markus, shinobu kitayama, harry triandis et al.: came up with two
kinds of self construal that affect emotions:
1) Independent self construal is also referred to as individualism: to assert
ones distinctiveness and independence and to define oneself according to
unique traits and preferences, with focus on internal causes, such as ones
own disposition or preferences, which are thought of as “stable” across
time and social context.
Report more positive socially disengaging emotions (pride, high self
esteem) and more negative socially disengaging activities (anger,
2) Interdependent, collectivist, selfconstruals: the self is connected with
other people. Find ones status, identity, and roles within the community
and other collectives such as families and organization. Emphasis on the
social context and situational influences on behaviour. Thinks of oneself
as embedded within social relationships, roles, duties, with a self that is
constantly changing, being shaped by varying contexts, relationships, and
Table 3.1: Two different self construal’s
Japanese students report more positive socially engaging experiences and
more negative socially disengaging emotions.
• The self construal perspective also focuses on the emotions we privilege and
value and culture specific ways in which emotions evoke responses in others
E.g. mothers getting showing anger. The American child moved faster
towards the toy as the Japanese child moved slower. Interdependent
cultures: anger is infrequent and highly. They are more frequent in
• How culture affects happiness
Mark suh found that ppl from interdependent cultures find greater
happiness in abiding by cultural norms. In independent societies they find
greater happiness in expressing positive emotions. Table 3.1 Two different Self Construal’s
The Independent Self The Interdependent Self
I am autonomous, separate I am connected to others
I have unique traits and preferences I fulfill roles and duties
My behaviour is caused by my internal My behaviour is the result of social context
Who I am is stable across contexts Who I am varies across contexts
Individual Emotion: Amae
• Amae: is an attachment emotion. It is an emotion of interdependence. Derive
comfort of other persons complete acceptance
In western societies we think that we should grow out of this.
Can be within family, romantic relationships or friendships.
Values: second approach in understanding emotion
• Values: principles that govern our social behaviour.
Differences in allocating resources, family structure, punishing moral
E.g. in America to be sincere you must act in accord with ones innermost
E.g. in Japan makoto is practiced which is doing social duty not in
accordance with inner feelings, but doing completely, with expertise, and
without inner conflict
• In different cultures there will be different elicitors of emotions related to that
E.g. in the west jealousy is expressed when the sexual attention of a
primary partner turns toward another. Monogamy is cherished. Interloping
is unaccepted, jealousy occurs and fear.
In more interdependent societies. They are more collective and extended.
Childrearing is shared with relatives and monogamy is not as highly
cherished. Recreational sex in some societies in customary.
Cultures vary to which emotions are focal or prominent in daily life.
According to cultural differences in values.
Focal emotions: ppl expect to be more readily expressed and more
intense, with a more intense behaviour.
• In some societies honour is highly valued. It elicits anger, shame that is more
focal emotions. In high honour societies suicide rates are higher and are
preferred over lacking respect and esteem of others.
• Emotional control is highly valued in East Asian cultures. They must inhibit.
• Figure 3.2:americans expression of anger in comparison to Asian Americans
Spontaneous expression is thought to risk disrupting social harmony and is
In western society it is expressing the authentic self. Asian cultures express anger less than westerners.
• Jean Tsai’s Affect evaluation theory: emotions that promote specific cultural
values and ideals are valued more and as a result should play a more
prominent role in the social lives of individuals
United states excitement is greatly valued. Enables ppl to pursue a
cultural ideal of selfexpression and achievement.
East Asian cultures value calmness and contentness because these positive
emotions more readily enable harmonious relationships.
The behaviours connected would be American more risk taking
behaviours (e.g. motorcycles), drugs, exciting music. The Christian
gospels and popular books today elicit high arousal and positive emotions.
Buddhists texts and books are low arousal, positive emotions.
• Figure 3.3 Americans have preference for exciting as east Asian has
preference for calm
• Epistemology: are ways of knowing. They refer to knowledge structures and
theories that guide thought, emotion, and behaviour in domainspecific ways.
• Kaiping Peng and Richard Nisbett
East Asia: guided in their knowledge and thought by a holistic dialectal
system of thought and has its roots in the great intellectual traditions of
east Asia (Crusification, Taoism and Buddhism).
• Based on five principles:
1) Change (so that nothing is static)
2) Contradiction (opposites that are consistent and both are true
3) Covariation (so that events are interrelated in complex field systems)
4) Compromise (true that lies in the synthesis of opposites)
5) Context (the events that occur not alone but in contexts.
Chinese proverbs involve more contradiction, American proverbs involved
more one sided singular truths. Each culture had preference for their own.
• Emotional complexity (in light of principle 2): the simultaneous experience
of contradictory emotion. (E.g. happiness and sadness).
East Asians may be more able to experience this as westerners might focus
more on singular meaning.
• Experience sampling: studies in which student were beeped electronically
and reported on their current emotions, as well as in lab studies.
In Asian cultures they reported more emotional complexity. In western
they reported less of the opposite emotion.
• Michelle Shiota et al.: studied emotional expression between romantic
partners and found that westerners try to maximize positive emotions and
minimize negative emotions. Asians seek balance of emotional states.
• Principle 5: context: Asians tend to look at context when making sense of a
social situation. Westerners tend to focus more on the individual. This is
shown through their art. Asians art focuses on the background, westerners on
faces. • We expect Asian cultures to experience gratitude or awe from contextual
causes (good economy, part of a collective gathering), westerners from
• The emotions ppl experience:
Asian: more collective pride
Western: individual pride.
Approaches to Studying Cultural Influences on Emotion
Cross Cultural Comparisons
• There are universals in elicitors of emotions, however cultures have been
found to differ in emotional responses whether they are socially engaging or
Interdependent societies: positive emotions when they are in contexts that
are socially engaging
Independent: more positive in less socially engaging and more expression
of personal preferences or individual achievement.
• David Matsumoto: most ambitious crosscultural comparisons in the field of
emotion to understand cultural differences in emotional suppression.
In highly hierarchal cultures ppl reported more tendency to supress their
emotions. Participants of more egalitarian (individualistic) cultures
supressed less and expressed emotion to show their authentic self.
Suppression in some cultures leads to less happiness and well being as in
other it is associated with less problems of social adjustment.
• Display rules: thought of influence how and to whom it is appropriate t