Everyone feels emotions. We employ a lot of time interpreting emotions, defining how to react to them, observing others emotional responses and dealing with our emotions. Emotion presents itself in both nonverbal and verbal communication. Different cultures and countries express emotions differently. The varying differences in the expression of emotion means that people from different cultures will also interpret expression of emotion differently. Studies have shown that there are similarities in the way cultures express emotions despite the differences. The following essay focuses on expression of emotion in United States of America and Japanese and the differences in emotional expression.
The Japanese live in a collectivist culture (Matsumoto & Consolacion, 2002). Working together is a highly valued virtue among the Japanese. Americans on the other hand have an individualistic culture. Their emphasis is on greater good for the individual rather than the society. Also the Japanese culture is largely influenced by Buddhism while that of the Americans is largely influenced by Christianity (Matsumoto & Consolacion, 2002).
Emotions are spontaneous reactions to a stimulus. There are six crucial basic emotions; surprise, sadness, happiness, fear, anger and disgust (Matsumoto & Consolacion, 2002). When interpreting emotions, the Japanese tend to focus more on tone of voice. The Americans tend to interpret emotions through facial expressions. Thus when an American is talking to Japanese, they are likely to misinterpret the emotions being expressed by the other. Americans will have humor at almost any time with anyone when they are happy. Humor is a way of getting work done in a fun way. It is found even in speeches and one can joke about something even with a stranger. The Japanese, even when happy, have to recognize the settings in which they can express humor (Gilmer, Luo & Kao, 2001). For example in the workplace, if a worker humors his boss, it will be considered disrespectful. They also hardly share jokes with random strangers. When faced with sadness the Japanese will normally only share these with people they are close to. For example, a husband will express sadness to his wife or best buddy. He is also likely to not show this in his facial expressions. A Japanese may appear happy even when his sad. Americans are more open to expressing even their sad emotions (Gilmer, Luo & Kao, 2001). They show their sadness by their facial expressions.
The effect of culture on emotional expression
The major cultural difference that influences how cultures express emotions is individualism and collectivism. In a research, Japanese and American participants were made to watch a film containing gruesome images of surgeries and amputations. Participants showed similar reactions to the images, showing disgust and grimacing while they watched the field. The same experiment was repeated, this time with a scientist present in the room. As they viewed the film, the Japanese participants retained a neutral face while the Americans reacted with disgust to the film. The Japanese failed to express their negative emotions about the film due to the scientist present in the room. This is because according to the Japanese culture, it is inappropriate to express negative emotions when an authority is in the room.
Asian cultures are collective in nature and, hence, a person belonging to this culture is expected to adjust his/her emotions to fit in with others. Asians suppress their emotions. However, in the American culture that is individualistic in nature, people are expected to express their emotions so as to influence others (Brislin & Kim, 2003).
The ability to interpret and express emotion is an important part of our lives. While many of the ways of expressing emotion across cultures are similar and appear to be partly innate, a variety of factors affect how we express emotion. They include culture, experience and social pressures. Recognizing differences in emotional expression is important as it enables an individual to interpret emotions correctly and react in the most favorable way. It also avoids conflicts that may arise as a result of misinterpretation.
Brislin, R. W., & Kim, E. S. (2003). Cultural diversity in people's understanding and uses of
time. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 52(3), 363–382.
Gilmour, R., Luo, L., & Kao, S. (2001). Cultural values and happiness: An east-west dialogue.
The Journal of Social Psychology, 141(4), 477–493.
Matsumoto, D. & Consolacion, T. (2002) American-Japanese cultural differences in judgments
of emotional expressions of different intensities. Cognition and Emotion, 16 (6), 721–