Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Emotion regulation and culture

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Emotion regulation and culture:
To what extent does emotion regulation vary by culture?

Overview[edit | edit source]

For proper understanding and knowledge of emotion regulation and culture's combined influence on individuals, a sound understanding of its individual contexts must be described.

Emotion regulation can be described as shaping an emotion one has, when one has them, and how one experiences or expresses these emotions[1]. Therefore, this concept is concerned with how an emotion itself is regulated, and defined in this way, many different activities can count as regulating emotion. For example, pounding your pillow when angry at a boss, imagining an audience naked when nervous for a piano recital, calling or messaging a friend when you’re feeling sad, going for a run after having an upsetting fight with your friend or playing calming music after a stressful day at work[1]. There is an endless limit to activities that may qualify as emotion regulation, each individual experiences a different emotion and what is needed to help regulate those differences between each person.

Culture can mean many things. Culture could be the clothes that you are wearing, the customs you hold dearest or the language that you speak. Some cultures you may adopt and make your own or you may be born into them[2]. These ideas pervasively influence how individuals think, feel and behave.

Together these concepts can describe the influence culture can have on an individual's motivation to regulate emotions, and differences between cultures can help describe this.

Focus questions:

  • What are the cultural differences in emotion regulation?
  • What is the influence of culture on an individual?
  • How is an individual's motivation to regulate emotion influenced by culture?
  • Do research findings support that culture motivates emotion regulation?

Cultural differences in emotion regulation[edit | edit source]

Culture can have a profound influence on how people display, experience and perceive emotions. The culture in which each person lives provides guidelines, expectations, structure and rules that help us interpret and understand a variety of emotions. Within each culture, the types and frequencies of emotional displays considered acceptable are dictated by a cultural display rule[3].  These rules may also influence how individuals choose to regulate their emotions, therefore influencing an individual's emotional experience, leading to general cultural differences in the display of emotion and experience.

Example[edit | edit source]

For example, in most western cultures in Europe and the United States (US), people prioritise individual self-promotion and many Asian cultures prioritise social harmony over individual gain. Study has shown that it is more likely that individuals from the US will express negative emotions such as fear, anger and disgust both alone and with others. In comparison, Japanese individuals were more likely to only do so when alone[3].

Table 1.

Example of Cultural Differences in Emotion Expression

Negative Emotions Western Culture Asian Culture
Alone Express emotion Express Emotion
With Others Express emotion Do not express emotion

Universal Emotions[edit | edit source]

Although display of emotion differ from culture to culture, the ability to recognise and return associated facial expressions appears to be universal. Research by Ekman and keltner (1997) compared facial expressions across varying cultures, supporting the theory that there are seven universal emotions, each associated with a distinct facial expression. These seven emotions are happiness, surprise, sadness, fright, disgust, contempt and anger. As these are “universal” they operate independently of culture and language. A depiction of each expression is portrayed in Figure 1.

Figure 1. shows the seven different universal facial expressions which are happiness, surprise, sadness, fright, disgust, contempt and anger
Figure 1. Universal facial expression: research suggests the seven universal emotions that are associated with a distinct facial expression: happiness, surprise, sadness, fright, disgust, contempt and anger.

Influence of culture on individual's[edit | edit source]

Culture is explained as patterns of historically derived and selected ideas and their embodiment of institutions, practises and artefacts[4]. This explains how it pervasively influences how people think, feel and behave. A framework by Markus and Kitayama[5] helps characterise this influence by looking at different construals of the self. This framework looks at the comparisons between an independent view of the self and interdependent view.

The Independent Construal[edit | edit source]

In many western cultures there is an acceptance in the inherent distinction of being a specific person. The cultural norm is to become independent of others and to express one's unique attributes[5]. To achieve the cultural goal of independence, an individual’s behaviour must be organised and made meaningful by their own internal repertoire of thoughts, feelings and actions rather than by reference to the thoughts, actions and feelings of others.

This view of the self assumes the belief in the wholeness and uniqueness of each individual's structure of internal attributes. This then leads to processes such as self actualisation, realising one's self, expressing one’s unique configuration of needs, rights and capacities[5]. Therefore, the main aspect of this construct is that it involves a conception of the self as autonomous and an independent person, thus why we refer to it as the independent construal. It may also be defined as;

It is assumed that, on average, more western cultures will hold independent views in comparison to non-western cultures, yet within each culture individuals will vary[5].

Figure 2. Representations of the concept the self (A: Independent construal. B: Interdependent construal)

The independent self is illustrated in Figure 2. The large circle is a representation of the self, with the smaller circles representing specific others. The Xs are used to represent various other aspects of the self or others. In some scenarios the smaller and bigger circles will intersect with the X in the intersection. This scenario refers to the self being represented in relation to others or to a particular social situation (for example “I am polite to my boss”). An X represented within a circle but outside of an intersection, serves as an aspect of the self perceived as relatively independent of the other circles, therefore constant over time and context. These representations will usually mean an internalised desire, preference, attribute or ability (e.g, “I am creative”). For those who use independent construals of the self, these inner attributes are most significant when regulating emotions and behaviour[5].

The Interdependent Construal[edit | edit source]

In contrast to the independent view of the self, many non-western cultures insist on the fundamental connectedness of human beings to each other[6], the norm is described as maintaining an interdependence among individuals[5]. Being interdependent entails envisioning oneself as a part of an enveloping social relationship, and recognising that your behaviours are decided and organised by what the individual perceives to be the feelings, thoughts and actions of others in the relationship.

The view of the self and relationship between others and the self, refers to an individual not as separate and differentiated from the social context but more connected to others. People are more motivated to fit in with others, and become a part of various interpersonal relationships. Throughout this construal the significant features of the self are found in the interdependent and therefore more public components of the self. This can also be referred to as:

The manner an individual achieves connection will then depend crucially on the nature of context, and in particular the others present in a scenario. Others will therefore, actively and continuously participate in the definition of the interdependent self.

The interdependent self is illustrated in Figure 2. The significant self-representations which are shown as Xs are those shown in relationships to specific others. Individuals with interdependent views include representations of unchanging attributes and abilities, which can become phenomenologically salient. Yet, in many circumstances these attributes are less important when regulating emotion and observable behaviours. These are not assumed to be diagnostic of the self. Instead, behaviour is guided by self knowledge and this is of the self-in-relation to specific others in particular contexts[5].

By looking at the two different construals of the self, and how they vary between cultural groups, understanding of how individuals conceive themselves and their emotions can be found, thus creating a clear link to emotion regulation. The extent to which a cultural group promotes independence or interdependence encompasses further understanding of its impact on emotion and behaviour and in turn its regulation[7].

How culture can shape how an individual is motivated to regulate emotion[edit | edit source]

Ford and Mauss[7] have stated that fundamentally, culture should influence whether people are motivated to regulate their emotions. From a theoretical perspective, this is because emotions are powerful internal experiences, this can both potentially disrupt social harmony and assert someone's individuality (for example being angry might assert one's opinion but also make others feel uncomfortable). People who are more readily motivated to regulate their emotions should be from interdependent cultures in comparison to independent cultures[7].  Supporting this basic idea, research has found that Asian Americans reported using emotion regulation more frequently and reported a strong preference for emotion regulation (e.g “people in general should control their emotions”) in comparison to European Americans[7].

Expressive suppression[edit | edit source]

Expressive suppression is another common strategy focusing on cultural differences in using emotion regulation. Expressive suppression can be defined as the attempt to hide, inhibit or reduce ongoing emotion-expressive behaviour[8].  This is a response-focused strategy that will intervene once an emotion is already underway and behavioural responses are already fully generated. This therefore might be expected to require repeated efforts which will manage emotional responses as they keep arising, which will challenge the individual's resources[8]. This strategy is also involved with the inhibition of outward expressions of ongoing emotion. This is often assessed with items such as “I control my emotion by not expressing them”[7]. Study has found that individuals from Asian backgrounds will be more likely to report using suppression than those from European backgrounds[7]. Countries with reported high interdependence are also found to have higher levels of suppression[7].

The membership of a cultural group should not only shape whether someone is motivated to regulate their emotions. An individual's cultural values and orientation towards these should predict emotion regulation. Therefore, the values embedded within a culture and the cultural context sensitive to each cultural group should be associated with emotion regulation. To support this, looking at the extent to which Asian American or European American individuals endorse Asian versus European American cultural values can predict their use of suppression more strongly than their cultural group membership. Overall, individuals from interdependent cultural values are motivated to regulate their emotions using suppression and vice-versa for individuals who are oriented towards independent cultural values.

Does research support that culture motivates emotion regulation?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Emotion, control values and response[edit | edit source]

The understanding of cultural differences has become a pressing and practical concern for research, bringing implications for most aspects of human exchange. In particular, cultural differences found in how emotions are experienced and expressed may lead to differences in actual emotional response and consequently have implications for individual well-being and interpersonal interactions. In this regard, the two cultures Asian/Asian-American (AA) and European/European-American (EA){{inline comment|set up these abbreviations earlier]], provide an interesting contrast. This is because of the cumulative research suggesting that AA culture has higher value in emotion control than EA culture. Laboratory studies also find similar findings of emotion, AA’s[grammar?] and EA’s are found to have differences in emotional responding[awkward expression?]. The differences in emotional response are proposed by researchers to be due in part to culturally specific values about emotion and emotion control[9].  An example of cultural differences in emotional response and emotional control is found in a study by Mauss, Butler, Roberts & Chu[9]. Mauss et al.[9] conducted two studies, assessing three things, the differences in emotion control values between AA and EA individuals and examining AA versus EA women’s experiential, expressive and physiological responses to a lababorty induced anger and whether individuals emotion control values (ECV) mediate observed group difference in anger response.

The first study administered questionnaires to 506 undergraduate students,[grammar?] within the questionnaire they were asked of their ethnic background  with 8 ethnic-identification options, 139 being AA and 367 being EA. They used an ECV scale to capture relatively general values of emotion control and two scales (suppression scale and venting scale) to measure emotion regulation. Results found that greater ECV was associated with higher levels of habitual emotion suppression and a reduced tendency to vent emotions, the AA participants supported ECV to a higher extent than the EA participants.

In the second study participants underwent an anger provocation protocol in a laboratory setting. Each was asked to perform tedious mental arithmetic tasks and by creating a situation where participants were likely to get angry with the experimenter. Participants came from a large sample of 195 undergraduate women. The measures taken included self-reported anger experience, anger expression and autonomic physiological responding. The results found that AA reported significantly smaller increase in anger than EAs and AAs reported significantly less intense anger expressions than EA.

Throughout this study a main contribution was found, this being that AA and EA participants differ in emotional control values. This provided evidence for the notion that cultural differences when responding with anger can be due to differences in values, thus shaped from an individual's learning history.

Social consequences of emotion suppression and culture specifics[edit | edit source]

Emotions are critical to the guidance of interpersonal relationships. A consequence of this being that emotional exchanges can have social aftereffects of either maintaining and enhancing positive relationships or this becoming a source of discord[10]. To achieve a better understanding of how emotions may influence social interactions, two barriers must be overcome. [grammar?]The first being how self-regulatory efforts can shape which emotions are expressed and experienced in a given moment or situation. The second being that emotional responses may differ as cultures differentially encourage and reinforce emotional responding, all sanctioned under different circumstances[10]. Therefore, an individual's self-regulatory efforts and their cultural meaning systems is a joint function that contributes to emotional ebb and flow and impact on a relationship during a social interaction.

Academic literature considers the influence of culture on emotion and emotion regulation are addressed individually but rarely intersect, and to address this gap a study by Butler, Lee, & Gross[10] focused on one particular form of emotion regulation and one specific cultural contrast. For the form of emotion regulation emotion suppression was chosen, [grammar?] this involves the inhibition of emotion expression as it has clear links to social consequences. For the specific cultural contrast, Americans holding Western European values with those advocating more asian ones were compared. This is because evidence shows these cultural groups differing in frequency and functions of suppression and thus the degree of negative emotions affiliated with it. Three hypotheses were suggested with referral to this emotion. The first being suppression emotion during face-to-face interaction will cause Americans with Western-European values to become less responsive. The second that this will lead their partners to see them as hostile and withdrawn and then be less friendly themselves, but thirdly that these effects should be weak or absent for Americans holding Asian Values[10].

A two-part study was conducted to test these hypotheses with 166 women from a multicultural American sample at a culturally diverse university. In part one participants were asked to complete a questionnaire online and then scheduled for part 2 one week later. Two analyses were run, the first using cultural background as the measure and the second using cultural values. Results generally supported the prediction made, {{gr} women with predominantly European values reported lower levels of habitual suppression than women with bicultural European-Asian values. Additionally, women with high European values were found to suppress when associated with self-protective goals and increased levels of negative emotion yet these associations were basically reversed for women of bicultural values. From this, it  was predicted that women with more Asian values suppressed they would have fewer negative effects on their partner and on their relationship than when women with European values suppressed[10].

Part two randomly paired participants and used a paradigm that asked them to watch and discuss an upsetting documentary war film. Each pair was randomly assigned to either a suppression or control group. In the suppression group, a woman in each pair was secretly asked to suppress emotion during the conversation, while the control group participants and partners of the suppressors were told to discuss the film normally. Measures of cultural background and values, emotional response to the stimulus film, suppression and emotion expression and responsiveness, partners perception and affiliation were used. In result[awkward expression?], it was found that suppression appeared in multiple negative outcomes and that these effects were greatest for women with European values and least for women of bicultural Asian-European values. Suppressors also aligned with cultural values that were predicted.

From the study and results shown, social consequences of emotion suppression can be seen as culture specific. The study found fairly extensive cultural moderation of both correlates of habitual suppression and its immediate consequences during social interaction[10]. Thus supporting that culture influences social interaction and in turn, emotion regulation[grammar?].

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which of the below defines emotion regulation?

Being able to sense when emotions happen
The different emotions one experiences
Shaping an emotion one has, when one has them and how one experiences or expresses these emotions

2 Individualist, egocentric, separate, autonomous, idiocentric and self-contained describes which of the below?

The self

3 Being _______ entails envisioning oneself as a part of an enveloping social relationship.


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotion regulation and culture are important constructs individually and together. They have profound effects and influence on an individual. Each culture differs and therefore the guidelines and expectations that help us understand emotion change within each culture. Facial expressions associated with distinct emotions are found throughout all cultures, yet internally emotion is expressed differently. The independent and interdependent construals of the self help define cultures' influence on individuals' thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Theory found that culture should influence whether people are motivated to regulate emotions because emotions are powerful internal experiences. Those from interdependent cultures were shown to be more motivated to regulate emotions in comparison to independent cultures. The research found and discussed helped [say what?] support the notion that individual regulation of emotion changes throughout different cultures. Therefore, emotional regulation can be dictated by the culture in which you belong.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Gross, J. (2014). Handbook of emotion regulation (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.
  2. Hope, C. (2019). Culture (1st ed.). Louie & Ted.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Influence of Culture on Emotion, Boundless Psychology. (2020).
  4. Kroeber, A. L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Papers. Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253.
  6. Kondo, D. (1982). Work, family and the self: A cultural analysis of Japanese family enterprise. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Ford, B., & Mauss, I. (2015). Culture and emotion regulation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 1–5.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cutuli, D. (2014). Cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression strategies role in the emotion regulation: an overview on their modulatory effects and neural correlates. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8, 175–?. =
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Mauss, I., Butler, E., Roberts, N., & Chu, A. (2010). Emotion control values and responding to an anger provocation in Asian-American and European-American individuals. Cognition and Emotion, 24(6), 1026–1043.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Butler, E., Lee, T., & Gross, J. (2007). Emotion Regulation and Culture: Are the Social Consequences of Emotion Suppression Culture-Specific? Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 7(1), 30–48.

External links[edit | edit source]