Emotion and cultureEdit
Covered in previous chapters are theories on emotion based on evolution, biology and neuroscience, and cognitive appraisal. Building on these theories is the notion that culture can influence emotion. This chapter will focus on the relationship between culture and emotion.
Before you begin, imagine your emotions around an event such as an engagement. Would your emotions be an innate response? Or, perhaps they are influenced by governing social norms that assert engagements to be positive and happy events in Western culture? Now consider how you would feel if your mother did not like your partner. Would this have any influence on how you felt about the engagement? Would it matter that it affected those closest to you? Or would your focus be on the next stage in your life and not your parents’ views? What if the social norms in your culture asserted that you had caused your family to lose face as a result of an engagement they didn’t agree with? What emotions might you feel? And would these emotions be innate or shaped by the social norms of that culture? This issue is presented in John and Shirama’s story.
A happy or shameful occasion? John, a 29 year old lawyer is elated as he informs his family of his recent proposal to fiancé, Shirama. John and Shirama met 5 years ago at university. Their relationship was initially slow to progress however the two had become very close in the past two years.
John is from an Australian family. Both his parents are of British decent. John loved studying at university and would like to return and eventually complete a doctorate in law. John strives on challenging himself.
Shirama is 27, is also a lawyer and is of Indian heritage. Her parents are second generation migrants and while they were born in Australia they still maintain close ties to India and traditional customs. Shirama has great respect for her parents and family, and studied law as it was her parents’ wish to do so. Shirama is bicultural, though as she becomes older she is increasingly influenced by Western ways. Shirama’s parents are not happy with her decision to marry John. They had planned for Shirama to marry Raul, the son of a respected Indian family from their region also living in Australia. They cannot understand how Shirama could betray them like this and feel ashamed of her. They feel they have lost face in the Indian community. Shirama cannot help feel guilt and sadness despite wanting to marry John.
John and Shirama are both part of the same event, so should they not all be experiencing similar emotions? This chapter will seek to explain some of the issues raised thorough out the course of this chapter.
What is culture?Edit
The term culture has various meanings relating to shared commonalities among particular groups of people (Triandis,1994). In the context of this chapter, culture will refer to that which is shared within racial groups. Racial groups share political systems, rituals, language, social institutions, behaviour patterns, and belief and value systems (Scherer & Brosch, 2009). These influencing factors can be distinct or similar to other cultures, essentially shaping what the group has in common (Mesquita & Karasawa, 2002; Scherer & Brosch, 2009). The diverse factors impacting on culture has seen a rise in theories between culture and psychology. One key area of interest is culture and emotion. This chapter will examine the role that culture plays in emotion.
Emotion and cultureEdit
In the most general form, emotions develop from the appraisal of a situation that is relevant to an individual’s concerns (Mesquita, 2001). These are contingent on the desire of the occurrence or non-occurrence of an event or situation (Mesquita & Karasawa, 2002). A situation should elicit positive feelings if it is desired or negative feelings if undesired. Concerns vary across cultures and consist of goals, motives, values, and expectations about oneself or others and their world (Frijida & Mesquita, 1994, Mesquita & Karasawa; Mesquita).
When considering emotion across cultures, it is useful to distinguish between recognition and expression of emotion (Ellsworth et al., 2008). Research into the recognition of emotion is mostly based on basic emotion theory, starting with Darwin’s theory that emotions are universal and innate. (1872, as cited Ellsworth et al.). Also contributing to basic emotion theory is Ekman, who suggested there are six basic universal emotions commonly referred to in the literature (1970, 1972, 1992, 1993, cited in Ellsworth et al.). We will cover these theories in greater detail in subsequent sections.
Expression of emotion is concerned with biological, cognitive and social construct theory and whether emotions are universally expressed or are influenced and/or constructed by culture. This raises the question, do diverse cultures experience different emotions or are they innate in us all?
Emotion in culture or culture's influence on emotion?Edit
Research has focused on the different cultural modes adopted in constructing the self (Kitayama, Markus & Kurokawa, 2000, van Hemert et al., 2007). Kitayama et al. suggest that these influences are integrated in the combined construct and definition of the self. They postulated a theory of ‘self-ways’ that explains the different ways individuals participate in cultures. The variation in construction of the selves across cultures implies difference in central concerns. Thus, they suggest social orientation is an important factor in emotional experience across culture. Of interest is the role of social orientation through independent and interdependent influences with Kitayama et al. suggesting these factors determine the approach to social construction of emotions.
Collective cultures are characterised by interdependent relationships that focus the group’s harmony and social cohesion (Triandis, 1994). The central focus of interdependence is that the self is not and cannot be separated from others (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). The concept of the self is tied to surrounding social contexts with the goal being the self in relation to others (Markus & Kitayama).
Cultures that typically epitomise collective philosophies are Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean European and Indigenous cultures (Tang,et al.,2004).
Individualist cultures, in contrast are typified by independent relationships with a focus on the self (Triandis,1994). Self definition in these cultures is concerned with ways of being, independence, and strive toward self contained beings (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). The independent individual believes they contain unique internal attributions and behave in accordance with these attributions. A goal of this group is to separate oneself from others (Markus & Kitayama).
Individualist culture is rooted in Western philosophical tradition where the goal of existence is to objectify the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). Individualist cultures include countries such as Australia, North America, the United Kingdom, and most of Western Europe.
Scherer and Brosch (2009) proposed three main dimensions where culture varies in priority; Role of the individual in society; the influence of social structures and norms; and the role of the self and control in determining outcomes. These dimensions can be identified in both collectivist and individualist cultures.
Stop and thinkEdit
John and Shirama’s scenario earlier are examples of collective and individualist approaches to emotion to the same event. John displayed blissful joy, most likely, because he was in love. His family were excited and happy to see him content, though the same sentiments cannot be applied to Shirama and her family. Despite having found love with John, Shirama feels guilt and sadness that she has upset her family. Shirama’s family feel shame and are embarrassed their daughter has not followed their wishes.
In many Eastern collective cultures (Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern) love (particularly romantic love) is associated with sadness (Potter, 1988 cited in Reeve, 2009). Romantic love is not valued in these cultures as it is seen as a hindrance that does not align with the value of a union assessed as beneficial by the families for the individuals involved, and the collective interest of the families (Reeve). The role of shame can regulate and shape social behaviour (Fessler, 2004; Frijda & Mesquita, 1994). In this scenario it is not surprising that shame is a predominant emotion for the collectivist family.
Emotion in the spotlight - Shame
Shame is a negative emotion where the individual harshly scrutinises the self (Tang et al., 2008). Shame is believed to be elicited from public situations when behaviour contradicts, or is not accepted, by the social norm. However, the public element is not always required to experience shame, which can also be experienced when one fails to meet their moral standards (Tang et al.). Shame arouses feelings of being small, shrinking, a sense of failure and powerlessness (Tang et al.; Fessler, 2004).
Fessler (2004) argues that shame developed from a rank-related emotion that motivates cooperation, conformity and competition. He identified shame arising from four categories of events involving: Classical shame (focus on concern with others’ actual or perceived negative evaluations); Guilt (emphasis on remorse or regret); Shyness (reservation in interacting with strangers); Embarrassment (often stemming from a breach of conventions rather than moral rules); and Subordinance (experienced by interaction with an individual acknowledged to be superior in the social hierarchy). Fessler suggests individuals are motivated by wanting to achieve social rank and that emotions associated with shame make the individual feel small and humiliated, both associated with inferiority.
While these shame categories would suggest it is a social construct as it encourages conformity shaped by cultural norms, Fessler (2004) in contrast argued that it is based in evolution as it motivates the individual to compete as well as cooperate to avoid the adversity associated with the emotion. Fessler’s work supports other research suggesting shame has different prescribed meanings associated by individualist and collective cultures (Tang et al., 2008).
How does shame compare between two cultures?
Findings from Fessler’s (2004) research into shame arising from categorical events, indicated classical shame was experienced more often across both individualist and collective cultures, suggesting it is a core aspect of emotion. Embarrassment-like shame was found in both cultural groups, though there was a greater incident of embarrassment-like shame in the collective culture. This may be reflective that the language used in the collectivist culture did not differentiate between embarrassment and shame. We will explore the role of language later.
While there were similarities in core aspects of shame, there was also a significant difference for the aspect of guilt-like events. Guilt-like events were only prominent in the individualist culture and completely absent in the collectivist culture. Fessler (2004) suggests that individualist cultures are more likely to report private emotions, whereas collective cultures may be bias against reporting emotions that do not have a public component to them.
Appraisal processes in emotion theory asserts that perception of an emotion-eliciting event is a subjective experience influenced by the individual (Scherer & Brosch, 2009). Appraisal is the process of evaluating dimensions of emotions such as pleasantness or unpleasantness, control, and level of agency (such as responsibility) (Mesquita, 2001). Events are evaluated and coded in terms of the individual’s knowledge and whether they are relevant to their concerns and how the event is experienced (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994). Appraisal processes are influenced by the particular meaning of an event, rather than the nature of the event (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994).
The strength of appraisal theory is that it can explain discrepancies in emotional responses to seemingly similar events in different individuals (Scherer & Brosch, 2009). Frijda and Mesquita (1994) suggest that while eliciting emotion events and the significance they hold may vary between cultures, the process of appraisal is similar across all cultures. Research into the area supports this notion, finding the structure and representation of emotion universally similar (Shaver & Fraley (2001). Shaver and Fraley suggest this is due to the biology of emotions.
As outlined earlier, there are universal core emotions or underlying core appraisals of certain emotions that are common across cultures (Mesquita 2001). Mequita suggests that the appraisal of core emotions can by no means cover the entire range of meanings different emotional concepts and words hold and that a one-to-one relationship between core appraisals and emotion words and concepts cannot be concluded. This is not surprising given appraisal is identified as one of several components contributing to emotional experiences and suggests that there are other factors that influence emotion (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1997).
An alternative approach is social construct theory. Social construct theory acknowledges that emotions are biologically based with neurobiological and physiological pathways (Kityama et al., 2000). The theory postulates that the biological process of emotions is constructed through patterns of social interactions and concepts. Emotions are seen as a social product facilitated by biological processes (Kityama et al.).
Cultural values and beliefs systems shape emotional experience and determine that which is meaningful, varying across cultures with distinct patterns (Kityama, Markus, Kurokawa, 2000; Strongman, 2003). This suggests emotion is relative, subjective and changeable.
The theory argues that socio-cultural contexts contribute to the cultural understanding of emotion over appraisal theory given the significant role culture plays in influencing emotion. The greatest support for this theory is the divergent approaches to emotion by collective and individualist culture, examined earlier.
Stop and think Could social construct theory explain the differences in priority of concern over John and Shirama's engagement? Or is it simply a case of different appraisal processes?
Research into facial expressions supports theories that emotions are innate and universal (Wierzbicka, 1994). Research by Ekman found cross cultural convergence in the recognition of six basic emotional expressions for anger, fear, disgust, happy, sad, and surprise (1984, cited in White, 1994). The findings suggest that humans have at least six core universal emotions and suggests emotions are rooted in neurology (White, 1994).
Research has also suggested that recognition of emotions expressed through facial expressions is more accurate for perceivers within the same cultural group as the expressor as they have an in group advantage (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2003; Matsumoto & Willingham, 2009). In theory, this could lend support to Ekman’s hypotheses that within the six categories of emotion he identified, also existed families of related states (Wierzbicka, 1994). Elfenbein and Ambady hypothesise these are more easily recognisable within cultures with shared understandings of the expressions of common emotional states. However, Elfenbein and Ambady's theory has not been supported in further research and researchers have question the validity of ‘in group’ identification (Lee, Chiu & Chan, 2005).
An interesting study by Masuda et al. (2008) researched emotional recognition derived from facial expression in Western European and Japanese participants. The study had participants watch cartoon characters displaying a range of emotions, surrounded by other characters depicting the same or different emotions. The Japanese participants’ perception of emotion were influenced by the surrounding character’s emotions, whereas the Western European participants’ perception was only influenced by the central character. These findings were also confirmed by eye tracking data of the participants. While the findings suggest a difference in attention, with Japanese participants looking more often at the surrounding characters, it also supports that individualist cultures see emotions as individual feelings, whereas collectivist cultures see them as part of the group (Masuda). It is of interest to note, that Japanese participants perceived the smiling individual as happier if those around them were also happy, whereas when the group was not sharing in the emotion of the individual, the perception of emotion was tempered. This suggests a significant difference in the way individuals from collective cultures recognise and appraise facial emotional expression.
Masuda et al.’s (2008) research also supports findings by Levenson et al. (2002, cited in Markus and Kityama, 1994). In a study where individuals from collectivist and independent cultures had to identify facial emotional expressions, mimic and describe them, they found that participants from collective cultures had difficulty describing their emotional state because they were alone. This provides further support that individuals from collective cultures view facial expressions in a social context, as well as appraise their own emotions in a social context.
Contributing to research in the area of facial emotional recognition, is research into vocal emotional recognition.
Bryant and Barrett (2008) examined the perception of vocal emotional expressions among an Indigenous South American group and American college students. Participants in each group were tasked with listening and correctly identifying six different cultural vocal emotional displays and matching them to correct facial expressions (Bryant & Barrett). In using two distinct cultures the researchers found that vocal emotions were reliably identified for the emotions, happy, angry, fearful, and sad independent of verbal content. Bryant and Barrett surmise the correct identification can be attributed to universal utterances related to factors such as pitch and speed that relate to emotional categories. For example, vocalisations conveying happiness is fast, has elevated pitch variability and is high in average pitch. This compared to sad vocalisations that tends to be soft and slow with low pitch variability and is below average in pitch. Research in the area suggests listeners discern emotions through discrete categories (Bryant & Barrett).
Emotions are commonly defined by the labels assigned and understood as prescribed by language (Shaver & Fraley, 2001). Emotions are conveyed and understood in linguistic terms available through respective cultures. Thus, Och and Schieffen (1984) argue that language defining emotion is influenced by culture.
The acquisition of emotional expression and in turn emotional recognition occurs early in children through the use of language. Research by Ochs and Schieffen (1984) found that caregivers are concerned in ensuring their children are able to display and are aware of appropriate behaviour to social situations. They hypothesised that the process of becoming a competent member of society is achieved through language. Children are taught particular structures and patterns that are given priority by the caregivers and members of their culture. For example, children in Western cultures are encouraged to use first nominal forms (I, you, someone) in labelling, this is not done in a collectivist society such as Samoa.
In addition, individualist cultures place greater emphasis on emotional meaning and consequently have a large affective vocabulary and understanding of emotion (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2003). Language is reflective of the culture’s social norms, values and beliefs and given cultures vary among themselves it is not surprising that not all languages have and reflect the same meanings. This hold true for words with affective meaning, where some emotion words do not have do not have a translation equivalent in another language (Mesquita, Kitayama & Karasawa, 2006). Table 1 lists emotion words unique to particular cultures, with no English equivalent.
Stop and think Have you ever felt schandenfreude, amae and litost? Chances are you have even though there is no English word equivalent. Can you think why that may be?
- Culture is the shared commonalaties among particular groups of people.
- Emotion in culture is identified through the expression and recognition of emotion across cultural groups.
- Recognition of emotion is based in emotion theory. Expression of emotion is linked to biological, cognitive and social construct theories.
- Emotion and culture examines whether diverse cultures experience different emotions or whether emotions are innate across all cultures.
- Collective and individualist styles of culture determine the approach to the social construction of emotion.
- Theoretical approaches suggest an appraisal theory and social construct theory influence emotion in culture. Appraisal is the process of evaluating dimensions of emotion relevant to an individual’s concerns. Social construct theory postulates the biological processes of emotions are constructed through patterns of social interaction.
- Facial and vocal emotional expression support theories that there are universal basic emotions. Research into these areas highlighted through the different approaches collective and individualist cultures use in facial emotion recognition. The collectivist individual’s perception of facial emotion of central characters are influenced by others.
- Emotions are commonly defined and understood by the labels assigned by language. Language defining emotion is influenced by culture.
- Research provides support for both universal commonalities and cultural variation in emotional expression across culture.
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