A group is completing a task.
Each participant takes a turn doing the task. Most do it the same way, but then one does it completely differently.
When this individual steps out of place, the others look at him angrily.
If you observed this, what would you deduce?
What would you think if the others didn’t look angry but appeared sad instead?
This is the scenario put forth by the study we’ll be discussing in this post.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about societal emotional environments and cultural emotional arousal levels.
As a foreigner in a new country, how do you adapt your behavior so that you don’t have a monkey moment in another culture?
Often, you can read into others’ emotional expressions which may indicate to you whether you’ve upset a social norm.
This study takes a look at observations of norm violations using four countries – Germany, Greece, Israel, and the US – each of which has different rules and norms for negative emotions.
Each group observed the two interactions described above.
In general, the anger shown suggested to the observers that if you want to be part of a group, you should complete the task the same way as the others (see, norms).
However, when the observers saw sad reactions instead, they weren’t universally sure how the participant should have behaved in this social context.
Anger vs. Sadness
Anger is generally a strong signal about societal norms and behaviors.
Anger suggests a behavior that’s both undesirable and incongruent to the emoter’s norms.
Sadness, however, though it may indicate unpleasantness or goal obstruction, does not necessarily emphasize a norm violation.
Performance of All Groups
For all four groups, anger was more indicative of a norm violation than expressions of sadness or neutrality.
Greek participants were better at perceiving sadness as a sign of a norm violation, while German participants were most prone to perceive anger.
American participants were most likely to consider the expressers indifferent.
Israeli participants differentiated best amongst the three expressions…although that may be because the study was Israeli-created (and so, the expressions were too).
The study also found that participants were more likely to recognize the norm and see the violation if anger was the expression shown.
This suggests that different cultures are more perceptively sensitive to different emotions and that anger is more pointed in making one note a norm violation.