Cultural Emotion Expressions

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Emotions are defined as, "internal phenomena that can, but do not always, make themselves observable through expression and behavior." (Niedenthal, et al. pg 5) Different cultures have different ways of expressing their emotions. Some cultures tend to express their emotions freely, while others tend to hold their emotions back. (Niedenthal, et al. pg 306) This difference is very prominent in Eastern and Western cultures.

Eastern vs. Western Cultures[edit]

Eastern and Western Cultures can be classified according to their geographic locations. "Cultures transcend national borders and require researchers to use meaningful dimensions of variability rather than physical boundaries." (Niedenthal, et al. pg 313) For the sake of this entry, Eastern cultures include those of Asia and Eastern Europe, and Western cultures include those of North America and Western Europe. Eastern cultures are said to be very collectivist, meaning they do things for the good of everyone else. "The needs, wishes, and desires of the collectivities in which individuals find themselves are emphasized and the notion of individuality is minimized or even absent from the cultural model." (Niedenthal, et al. pg 314) Whereas Western cultures are seen as more individualistic, or "...ones in which important meanings concerning relationships, identity, power, and ambition converge to promote individual needs, wishes, and desires. In such cultures, and North America is assumed to be the prototype,...equality and the possibility of personal attainment are encouraged." (Niedenthal, et al. pg 314) These simple definitions provided by Neidenthal show the drastic differences between cultures of the East and the West.

Eastern cultures, and their emotional expressions, "have been largely left to speculation, and often labeled "mysterious," and "deviant"."(Miyahara) Miyahara,referencing a study conducted on Japanese interpersonal communication, goes onto explain that the Japanese "are low in self disclosure, both verbally and non-verbally....Most of these attributes are ascribed to the Japanese people's collectivistic orientations."(Miyahara) This study conducted shows how the Japanese people, members of the Eastern culture, have a relatively low expression of emotion. "Emotional moderation in general might be expected to be observed in collectivist cultures more than in individualistic cultures, since strong emotions and emotional expression could disrupt intra-group relations and smooth social functioning." (Niedenthal, et al. pgs 314-15). In Eastern culture, specifically Japanese culture, it is shown that the way they feel are felt between people rather than with themselves. When Japanese students in school are asked about their emotions they usually respond by saying it comes from their outside social surroundings. When asked about where the emotions they feel come from they never refer to themselves first. This proves that most Japanese people feel emotion with the environment they are surrounded by. (Uchida, et al.)

Western cultures tend to express their emotions more freely, although sometimes it not always acceptable. "A Finnish man once told one of us that Finns are in general suspicious of adults who do not control their expression of emotion, especially in public." (Niedenthal, et al. pg 306) This quote, taken from Niedenthal, shows that some cultures do not trust those who express their emotions freely. In another study comparing the relationships among American and Japanese people found, "People in individualistic cultures are motivated to achieve closer relationships with a selected few, and are willing to clearly express negative emotions towards others." (Takahashi, et al. pg 454) This shows that people living in individualistic cultures express their emotions, even the negative ones, towards others. This is completely opposite of the findings of a collectivistic culture. In Western culture, specifically American culture, they feel their emotions more within themselves rather than the environment around them. When American students in a school are asked about their emotions they usually respond by saying they feel their emotions with themselves. This proves that Americans consider emotions as a personal journey and it can only be experienced independently. (Uchida, et al.)

Studies have shown that western and eastern cultures have distinct differences in emotional expressions with respect to hemi-facial asymmetry; eastern population showed bias to the right hemi-facial for positive emotions, while the western group showed left hemi-facial bias to both negative and positive emotions. [1]

Recently, the valence and arousal of the twelve most popular emotion keywords expressed on the micro-blogging site Twitter were measured using Latent Semantic Clustering in three geographical regions: Europe, Asia and North America. It was demonstrated that the valence and arousal levels of the same emotion keywords differ significantly with respect to these geographical regions — Europeans are, or at least present themselves as more positive and aroused, North Americans are more negative and Asians appear to be more positive but less aroused when compared to global valence and arousal levels of the same emotion keywords (Bann and Bryson). This shows that emotional differences between western and eastern cultures can, to some extent, be inferred through their language style.

Encoding hypothesis: The hypothesis that the experience of different emotions is associated with the same distinct facial expressions across cultures. Decoding hypothesis: The hypothesis that people of different cultures can interpret distinct facial expressions for different emotions in the same ways. [2]


Somatic Theories of Emotions[edit]

Somatic theories of emotion deal with the bodily responses to emotions.. (Wikipedia Contributors, Emotions)

Cognitive Theories of Emotions[edit]

Cognitive theories of emotions deal with the perception or judgment of emotions, rather than the bodily responses. (Wikipedia Contributors, Emotions)

Each type of theory deals with the different responses to an emotion, and which is more important, the bodily response, or the perception of the emotion. Both types of theories can be found on the Emotions page in greater detail.


Research has shown that the emotional expressions differ between Western and Eastern cultures. These two different types of cultures represent the exact opposites of each other, but both ways of emotional expression seem to work for their own cultures. Additionally, each culture has differences within itself. Just because Eastern cultures follow a collectivistic model, does not mean they do not express their emotions. It simply means they express their emotions less, or in a more private setting. This also holds true for Western cultures. Just because Western people usually follow individualistic cultures, does not mean that they will not sacrifice for the good of the whole group. These two different cultures embrace emotions differently in their own ways, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mandal M. K., Harizuka S., Bhushan B., & Mishra R.C. (2001). Cultural variation in hemi-facial asymmetry of emotion expressions. British Journal of Social Psychology 40, 385–398.
  2. ^ Gilovich T. & Keltner D., et al. (2006). Social Psychology. 479.