The assumption that expressing emotions shows our passion and authentic individuality may reflect a cultural bias, a study suggests.
A new study by University of Michigan psychology professor Shinobu Kitayama and colleagues focuses on the emotional expression of Latin Americans, United States residents, and Japanese. Specifically, the researchers tested the participants’ independence and feelings of closeness to others, also described as interdependence.
By knowing these differences, people can have a better understanding and acceptance of other cultures, says Kitayama, professor of psychology and director of the culture and cognition program in the psychology department.
“Much of the research in psychology is based on the notion that emotional expression is a display of one’s passion,” he says. “But this whole notion may have been deeply ingrained into what one may call a Western perspective.”
Latin Americans expressing positive emotions seem to be more about fostering connections and strengthening social bonds rather than asserting individuality, the research shows.
In two separate analyses, Kitayama and colleagues tested whether Latin Americans possess an open expression of positive emotions related to social engagement.
In the first study, with nearly 600 participants who were asked about their emotional responses to different situations, researchers compared Latin Americans from Chile and Mexico with US residents, a group known to be highly independent.
Latin Americans expressed positive socially engaging emotions, particularly in response to negative events affecting others. US residents favored positive socially disengaging emotions, such as pride, especially in response to personally favorable circumstances.
In the second study, which involved about 550 participants who completed the same questionnaire as the first study, researchers looked at the responses by Latin Americans from Colombia, comparing them with US residents and Japanese citizens.
Japanese participants expressed positive emotions less than others but displayed a higher tendency to express negative socially engaging emotions, such as guilt and shame, compared to both groups.
Latin Americans were expressive of positive socially engaging emotions, whereas Japanese were less expressive overall. Moreover, when Japanese expressed emotions, they emphasized negative socially engaging emotions, the study shows.
Other contributors to the study are from Duke University, Universidad de La Sabana, Nagoya University, the University of Toronto, the University of Navarra, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The findings appear in the journal Emotion.
Source: University of Michigan