Happiness. Sadness. Fear. Anger. Surprise. Disgust.
According to this study, titled “Two Sides of Emotion: Exploring Positivity and Negativity in Six Basic Emotions across Cultures,” universal emotions can be perceived positively or negatively by different cultures.
The study tested the affective and cognitive components of these emotions on Korean, Chinese, American, and Canadian students.
What the study found was that each of these emotions contain both positivity and negativity but were viewed differently among cultures.
Canadians and Americans (Westerners) and Chinese and Koreans (Easterners) have different thinking styles.
As the study notes:
“Easterners tend to be dialectical when thinking about a situation in a manner that balances the positives and negatives. When things are going well, Easterners might expect a change for the worse, and when things are going badly, they might expect things to get better.”
On the other hand, Westerners’ thinking style can lead to imbalance.
“Westerners tend to focus more on one pattern—things will tend to stay as they are, good or bad. This thinking style may lead Westerners to think that things are rather consistent, leading them to concentrate on one side of an issue.”
Let’s see how this affects each group’s perspective on these six basic emotions.
Stronger positivity of sadness was reported by Easterners, and stronger negativity was reported by Westerners.
This complies with past studies’ findings that negative emotions have motivational and cognitive utility.
Other studies have found that Westerners tend to feel they shouldn’t have to face sadness, while Easterners embrace the experience of sadness.
All four countries rated happiness as positive, though Easterners reported stronger negativity of happiness, while Westerners reported stronger positivity.
Past studies have found that happiness may be experienced differently and mean different things across cultures.
The study suggests that while happiness may be a bright sunny day in the West, it may be balanced with the negativity of a drizzle in the East.
Anger was viewed more positively by Easterners than by Westerners.
A 2013 study found that anger was expressed more by those with lower social status in the U.S., while it was expressed by those with higher social status in Japan, probably to demonstrate authority.
This may be one reason why Easterners view anger more positively than Westerners.
Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive fear than affective fear.
Their thoughts and conceptualization of fear were more negative, as fear was anticipated more and felt less, or maybe suppressed, while the other three groups felt fear as more negative.
Koreans reported a stronger positivity of fear, which may be due to their history.
As a threatened nation, they may view fear as a norm that they must simply live with.
Similarly to fear, Americans were the only group to report stronger cognitive disgust than affective disgust.
This means that others felt disgust more negatively, while Americans thought and conceptualized it more negatively.
Easterners reported a stronger positivity of disgust, which might suggest their duality of thinking/feeling that even “bad” things can be beneficial.
Surprise was reported by Easterners to be more negative, while by Westerners it was reported to be more positive.
Unexpected events are viewed as more negative by Easterners, and although they expect change more than Westerners, it’s not as welcome.