6 Basic Emotions & How They Are Viewed by Different Cultures

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.

Study’s Findings

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.

Sadness

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.

Happiness

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

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.

Fear

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.

Disgust

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

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.

“Are You Angry?” How One Can Identify Norm Violations Through Emotional Expression

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.

The Study

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.

Expressing Emotions in Culture: Do More Emotive Cultures Experience Greater Life Satisfaction?

Does expressing positive emotions make a person happier?

Does a society that embraces expression breed a population that’s more content?

Before you answer, let’s look at this forty-nine-country study on societal emotional environments and cultural differences in life satisfaction and well-being.

Societal Emotional Environments

First off, what is a societal emotional environment?

The paper defines it as

“the emotional climate of a society (operationalized as the degree to which positive and negative emotions are expressed in a society).”

In other words, our individual “emotional environment” is influenced by the emotions those around us express

This, in turn, influences our well-being.

The study looks at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal effects of emotion expression.

  • Intrapersonal – the well-being of those who express the emotions
  • Interpersonal – the quality of interactions with others for those who express emotions
  • Extrapersonal – the well-being of those around the expresser as a result of their expression

Emotion Valuation

Not only do different cultures express emotions differently, but they value them differently too.

Particularly when it comes to intensity of emotion.

Latin American cultures, for example, tend toward high arousal positive emotions, like joy and excitement, and these are shared often, intensely, and openly.

Confucian Asian cultures, on the other hand, value low arousal positive emotions, like calm and serenity, and therefore will more often suppress expressive emotions.

The Study’s Results

While identifying the average PSEE (positive societal emotional environment) and the NSEE (negative societal emotional environment) of each society surveyed, the study evaluates the participants’ life satisfaction and well-being.

Participants self-reported the frequency of positive and negative emotional expressions.

The study found that all countries expressed positive emotions more frequently than negative emotions, some more so than others.

Italy, El Salvador, and Ghana were countries with the highest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a day,” while Japan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom had the lowest PSEE scores, expressing positive emotions “a couple of times a week.”

High PSEE country scores were in the regions of Latin America, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, Latin Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, while low PSEE scores occurred in the Anglo region, as well as Southern Asia and Confucian Asia.

Negative emotions were expressed frequently in countries like Guatemala, Bhutan, and Pakistan, averaging “a couple of times a week,” while those countries with the lowest scores – Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland – expressed them “a couple of times a month.”

The study found that societies with high NSEE scores reported lower life satisfaction on the whole (although individuals were often independently more satisfied), while societies with high PSEE scores reported higher life satisfaction but not significantly.

This seems to indicate that having negativity vocalized around you affects your life satisfaction to a greater extent than having positivity vocalized around you.

Next week, we’ll take a further look at emotions in culture.

Self-Esteem & Future Time Perspective: How One’s Orientation Affects Their Sense of Self

When you look to the future, what do you see?

Are you positive about it? Negative? Confused? Certain?

And how does this predict your level of self-esteem?

That’s what one study by Southwest University and Ohio University set out to determine by examining Chinese and American college students and their feelings about the future.

Future & Past Time Perspective

We’ve talked about time orientation in past posts.

Americans generally have a future time perspective, while the Chinese favor a past time perspective.

Future time perspective involves goal-setting and forward-thinking. 

Future-oriented cultures are progressive and look toward – you guessed it – the future.

They try to see the big picture.

They plan and are driven by aims and goals.

Past-oriented cultures are conservative and risk-averse. 

They look at the past and present as interchangeable.

The past is revered and directs the future. 

Tradition is important, as are family values.

As you can see, each culture views time – and the future – very differently.

The Study

Using the FTP Scale (Future Time Perspective) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, 340 American undergrads and 460 Chinese undergrads were tested.

The study found that the American undergrads were more negative and confused about the future, as well as more positive, perspicuous, and perseverant about it.

American students also exhibited higher self-esteem than their Chinese counterparts.

What do these results mean?

The study has some answers.

Results Analysis

Why are young Americans more pessimistic about the future than their Chinese counterparts?

The study suggests that ever since the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. GDP has suffered, while China, as a developing nation, has a higher growth rate.

These socioeconomic factors may impact both groups’ levels of pessimism.

As for the Americans’ higher levels of optimism, this could be due to an innate belief in the economic development and national trends of the country.

American individualism may also impact the undergrads’ level of confusion about the future.

Those from individualist cultures more often believe that the future is in their hands. This makes for both isolation and uncertainty.

Those from collectivist cultures have a social safety net.

Their future is also viewed from a collective perspective (parents, friends, teachers, etc.), so this group involvement may reduce feelings of uncertainty for Chinese undergrads.

Self-Esteem

In both the American and Chinese groups, self-esteem was linked to future-negative or future-positive sub scale scores.

Those who had a positive view of the future had higher self-esteem, while those with a negative view of the future had lower self-esteem.

Similarly, those confused about the future had lower self-esteem, while those perspicuous about the future had higher self-esteem.

The higher degrees of optimism and perspicuity about the future in the American group led to a higher average level of self-esteem overall.

Diary-Keeping & Language Learning: How Adults Learn Language

Did you know that analyzing your own language learning can significantly boost your results?

I’ve talked about how to learn a language with an old brain.

Recently, I’ve come across new research into tactics that can help adults learn language.

And it all has to do with how adults learn, which is explicitly, rather than implicitly.

Explain, Please…

Adults require a certain clarity when they’re learning, especially when it comes to the elements of a new language.

They tend to lean heavily on their native language to help them understand the mechanics of a foreign one.

Therefore, one useful technique to learning language is to keep a diary that enables the adult student to write down the connections they’ve made during their language lessons

Remembering and replaying these connections is what locks vocabulary, sentence structure, and one’s overall understanding of the language in the memory’s vault.

The Research

A study into this technique looked at a group of language students at a Scottish university studying Spanish as a foreign language.

Using their native language (English), they were asked to explain the new language they were learning, including its characteristics, their focus, and what links the language had to English.

Diaries were introduced to three classrooms of 38 students, and after each lesson, they were asked to write out what they’d learned in the lesson and what similarities and differences they’d noticed compared to English.

According to a focus group interview after a period of time, it was found that the analysis and reflection of each lesson’s substance boosted student performance and gave them confidence.

They were able to better recognize language errors, articulate how each language worked, and identify and understand the different grammatical rules and other distinctions between the languages.

Not only this, but the written accounts of each lesson helped students memorize what they’d learned.

Personalized Language Learning

Another interesting takeaway from the study was that the answer to the question, “What did you learn in today’s lesson?” differed widely amongst students.

Each lesson had specific learning objectives, so it was expected that there would be similar answers, but that wasn’t the case.

This goes to show that each student progresses at his or her own pace, and language learning is particularly personalized, with each student learning something different from any one lesson.

Cross-Cultural Research: How to Leverage the Benefits and Positive Dynamics of Cultural Differences

Are we Debbie Downers when analyzing cultural differences in cross-cultural management research?

That is, do we look at the negative side of these differences over the positive to our own detriment?

That’s what researchers for this paper determined.

Authoring, “The upside of cultural differences: Towards a more balanced treatment of culture in cross-cultural management research,” the team of researchers encouraged scholars to “explore how cultural diversity, distance, and foreignness create value for global organizations.”

And this is what they discovered.

The State of Cross-Cultural Management Literature Today

More often than not, CCM literature looks at the negative when discussing differences in culture and management.

The paper highlights regularly used terms in such research, like “foreignness,” “cultural distance,” and “cultural misfit,” saying they reflect this emphasis on the negative.

These terms suggest incompatibility, conflict, and friction.

To counter this, the authors suggest an emphasis on the upside of cultural differences, instead seeking the “positive role of distance and diversity across national, cultural, institutional, and organizational dimensions.”

Endeavoring to seek out the positive, they argue, will balance the treatment of culture in CCM research, the goal being to leverage the benefits and positive dynamics of cultural differences in various contexts.

So, how does one do this exactly?

International and global businesses reap the benefits of cross-cultural labor and management, so the authors suggest the focus in CCM research and literature can be placed on those benefits.

A Double-Edged Sword

One example outlined in the paper is the following research submission:

Pesch and Bouncken’s paper, “The double-edged sword of cultural distance in international alliances,” shows how examining positive outcomes of cross-border interactions can benefit international businesses. 

Their findings suggest that the positive effects of cultural differences involving knowledge combination and task discourse outweigh any issues with trust-building that can occur by perceived distance. 

Moreover, cross-border alliances lead to improved innovation and joint product development. 

The research submission clarifies that these positive effects occur mainly in non-equity alliances, whereas M&As or joint ventures might run into more cross-cultural conflict, due to communication issues and social categorization processes.

Still, the above benefits are often overlooked in CCM research.

The authors conclude:

“Explicitly considering positive phenomena can help better understand when and how cultural diversity, distance, and foreignness can enhance organizational effectiveness and performance at multiple levels.”

The paper also took a look at Hyun-Jung Lee’s interview with renowned cognitive social psychologist, Richard Nisbett, who authored The Geography of Thought.

We’ll dive into that next week.

Culture in Crisis, Part II: How Cultural Values Impact Communal Response to Trigger Events

We’ve discussed how cultural values can predict how a community will respond to crisis.

In a continuation of last week’s post, we’ll look at the conclusion of the 2007 study by Melinda Rene Miller, titled “The Human Element: A Study of the Effects of Culture on Crisis Reactions.”

Hurricane Katrina

With the crisis of Hurricane Katrina as the backdrop, the study looked at two communities within the disaster area and their responses to it.

The values of the New Orleans Ninth Ward and the Mississippi Gulf Coast communities differ, and the study sought to draw strong correlations between these preexisting cultural values and corresponding reactions to determine if community crisis reactions can be predicted based on culture.

The study examined each communities’ demographics, communication styles, association with authorities, relationship to the environment, group unity and community roles, amongst other aspects, to infer their values regarding each category.

Key Differences in Response

The study found key differences in response to Hurricane Katrina between Louisiana’s Ninth Ward and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Let’s look at Louisiana’s Ninth Ward:

  • Community Roles Analysis: A community roles analysis showed preexisting beliefs in the inefficiency of leaders, which led to internal disputes and an inability to make unified decisions. This resulted in mixed messages, distrust, confusion, and an inability to execute a crisis plan. Additionally, many police and emergency services officers reportedly abandoned their posts.
  • Demographic Analysis: Evacuation plans failed to include segments of the population, including the ill, those with pets, and those without vehicles or places to go. The demographic analysis showed 30 percent of the Ninth Ward was disabled and over 30 percent didn’t own a car. Many lived below the poverty line and so had no emergency savings to evacuate. Further, personal relationships (even with pets) and fear of change were ingrained in Ninth Ward culture. The paper deems that the culture in the community was “every man for himself”; the onus was on the government to fix things and building back the community together was not considered a personal responsibility.
  • Communication Style Analysis: Many in the ward ignored the evacuation order. The communication style analysis showed that though the community values orders to some degree, having been repeatedly given this evacuation order before unnecessarily, they did not believe authorities and thought the storm would blow over. They also feared looters more than the storm.

Those in the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

  • Community Roles Analysis: Although the government response to the Mississippi Gulf Coast community was equally slow, the people began cleanup on their own. Their values include a can-do attitude, resulting in community rebuilding that was 21 percent more expedited than in the Ninth Ward.  The police force and firefighters were on duty around-the-clock, as dictated by the local government.
  • Demographic Analysis: In the study, there is little mention of the impact of demographics on the response. It would be interesting to see these differences fleshed out, as the wealth and health of the community significantly impacts its ability to respond.
  • Communication Style Analysis: To prevent looting, the local government controlled supplies and resources, in order to distribute them equally to citizens. In rebuilding of the area, the government asked the community to be mindful of elevation maps and received support and excitement about the restructuring rather than the resistance experienced in the Ninth Ward.

The study explains why knowledge about cultural values is valuable in this context:

“Being able to make the claim that a community’s culture has a greater effect on the public’s reaction to a crisis trigger event than the event itself, will aid future research in focusing more on creating a list of cultural aspects that match with crisis response strategies.”

The Way Forward

The conclusion drawn from this study is that knowing a culture and its values provides a wealth of information that can be applied to a crisis response strategy customized to that culture’s values. 

Consider the most recent global pandemic.

Culture influenced the various outcomes of different countries and communities around the world during the COVID crisis.

The reactions to supply rationing, the degree of adherence to face mask rules and social distancing, the acceptance of or reluctance to vaccination – and the resulting outcomes of such actions/inactions – all of this has roots in each nation’s culture and its values.

Cross-cultural research into the varying cultural responses and their outcomes to the COVID crisis, and other similar large-scale crises, could greatly aid organizations and governments in creating more effective response strategies customized to different cultural pockets in a nation – and to the nation as a whole.

Scientifically-Proven Tips on Learning a Second Language

Learning a language can be difficult.

But it will rewire your brain.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve discussed how the brain grows when learning a second language.

We’ve talked about how the left and right hemispheres process language and how the best approach to learning a language with an old brain is by dropping perfectionism.

This week, we’ll go over some practical tips and tricks for learning a language and improving your memory.

Vamos!

Sleep On It

Language learned just before bedtime ensures better long-term retention, according to a 2016 study in Psychological Science.

The study took two groups, each studying a foreign language 12 hours apart.

One group learned foreign vocabulary – practiced to perfect performance – in the morning and again in the evening.

The other group learned the new vocabulary in the evening, slept on it, and relearned it in the morning.

The study found that not only did the second group demonstrate better retention, but the amount of practice required was reduced by half.

The study concluded:

“Sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but sleeping between two learning sessions is a better strategy.”

Spaced Repetition 

Online language learning sites, like Duolingo and Memrise, are so successful due to their algorithms involving spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition is a memory-strengthening method by which words or phrases are learned at intervals ideally spaced for retention. 

The intervals are small to begin with, reviewing new words several times in a single practice session until they become familiar, and reviewing them again the following day, mixed in with newer words and phrases.

Then, a day, a few days, a week will go by, and you review the word or phrase again.

Soon, you won’t forget them.

Research has proven that spaced repetition can lead to “a nearly threefold improvement of vocabulary learning gains.”

Now, that’s worth repeating.

Test Comprehension Through Content

When you’re comfortable with your basic language skills, incorporating some content into your learning will boost your abilities.

This can be anything from watching a movie in the foreign language to listening to a podcast or reading a news article.

A 2008 study published by Cambridge University Press showed that learning content in a foreign language, as opposed to strictly learning the language itself, can significantly improve the speaking part of language learning.

The study followed two groups – the control group, which studied French via traditional methods, and the experimental group, which studied a civilization course in French – and looked at four aspects of language learning: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

While the experimental group outperformed the control group in speaking, the control group outperformed the experimental group in writing.

So, if speaking is the area you want to target, mixing in some media in the foreign language you’re studying will enhance it.

Does Learning Another Language Make You Smarter? Learn Here.

Not only is bilingualism or polyglotism beneficial to cross-cultural relations and integration into a foreign culture, but early language learning has also been shown to boost cognitive abilities across the board.

These past two weeks, we’ve discussed how language is learned through mind-mapping as early as infancy. We’ve also talked about how early foreign language learning can aid phonetic recognition.

But this isn’t the only benefit of learning a foreign language.

Studies show that the cognitive skills of elementary school children are improved by foreign language learning.

While intelligence and cognition aren’t one and the same, they are related and integrated.

Let’s see how.

The Ross Test

The Ross Test is used to analyze abstract and critical thinking skills.

Often, children who are thought to be “gifted” are evaluated using the Ross Test to screen them for inclusion in gifted programs. 

This was one of the tests used in a study by Foster, K. M., & Reeves, C. K., to evaluate the cognitive abilities of foreign language students.

The Study: Cognitive & Metacognitive Processes

The cognitive and metacognitive processes of students learning French as a foreign language in elementary school were measured and analyzed over a two-year period. 

Cognitive abilities are described by sharpbrains as:

“the brain-based skills and mental processes needed to carry out any task; [they] have to do with the mechanisms of how you learn, remember, and pay attention.”

Metacognition is the knowledge of one’s own cognitive processes.

With one 25-student control group that had no French instruction and three French-language groups, studying in the program for varying lengths of time, the study identified how foreign language learning might impact cognitive and metacognitive functions in each group. 

Each French group received a half-hour of French language instruction following a half-hour of English basal reading daily, while the control group simply read in English for an hour.

The Results

Across the board, the foreign language groups scored significantly higher on the Ross Test, including the score of all of its cognitive functions, than did the control group. They also scored higher on Butterfly and Moths test.

Even more impressive is that the foreign language students excelled at evaluation tasks, which, in Bloom’s taxonomy, is one of the highest cognitive skills, just behind “creating.”

Those French language students who studied for the longest time period (24.5 months) also performed the best, while the scores of those who studied for 15.5 months and 6.5 months correlated linearly with that trend.

So, does early foreign language learning make you smarter?

Not directly.

But this study indicates learning a foreign language can give you the cognitive tools to be a better learner in general.

Early Language Mapping: How Infants Learn Pronunciation

Why do Americans struggle with differentiating between the “shee” (“west”) and “chee” (“wife”) sounds in Mandarin?

Why do the Japanese struggle with the “l” and “r” sounds in “lake” and “rake”?

University of Washington speech professor Patricia Kuhl has the answer.

Map-Building

Having studied early language development for nearly three decades, Kuhl has a better understanding than most of how and when pronunciation and accents develop.

Before a baby even speaks her first word, a pattern of speaking has formed in the brain, based on her primary caregiver’s speech.

With American, Japanese, Swedish, and Russian infant participants, Kuhl found that vowel and consonant sounds of both native and foreign languages are clearly recognized by children between 6 to 8 months. 

That means an American infant can recognize and respond to the differences in “shee” and “chee,” while the Japanese infant will differentiate between “l” and “r” just as easily as an American.

Head-Turn Study

Kuhl used a “head-turn” study to identify whether infants could recognize these sounds.

While distracting an infant with a toy, the speaker would repeat a sound over and over – “la, la, la,” for instance.

The infant would continue watching the toy until she would hear a different sound mixed in – “la, la, ra”  – which would then light up the toy.

In anticipation of the reward, two-thirds of both Japanese and American 6- to 8-month-old infants would turn to look at the toy when the sound changed.

That ability was lost by the time the child reached one year.

Using the same sounds, a little over half of Japanese infants and nearly four-fifths of Americans would turn to look at the toy by the time the infants had reached a year.

The study concluded that this is when native sounds become the baby’s norm.

Magnet Effect

A Smithsonian article by Edwin Kiester, Jr., throws this map-building into further relief, with Kuhl describing the mapping of the baby’s language brain:

“The baby early begins to draw a kind of map of the sounds he hears. That map continues to develop and strengthen as the sounds are repeated. The sounds not heard, the synapses not used, are bypassed and pruned from the brain’s network. Eventually the sounds and accent of the language become automatic.”

A “magnet effect” further maps the native language, as prototypical sounds are absorbed and interpreted as native, while foreign sounds are discarded as “interference.” 

And what of infants born in bilingual households?

Those infant brains simply draw multiple maps, which is made easier if a specific language is spoken in the pitch, tone, and pronunciation of either caregiver.

This is why foreign languages are difficult to learn into adulthood: your language brain has long been mapped, and it’s a struggle to tune into sounds your brain wiring perceives as “interference.”

But this does not mean it’s impossible.

We’ll talk about the possibility next week.