Culture has especially a dominant effect on the display of emotions. For example not “loosing face” is an important cultural determinant of emotional expression in Asian societies and to a lesser extent also in other cultures. “Losing face” refers to the anxiety of being evaluated negatively from some apparent breach of cultural values or self-referent expectations. Cultures have specific norms that govern the display of emotions in facial expressions. Some cultures require members to remain impassive and not reveal their true feelings and for participants to regulate their facial expressions according to the social context. In one important study (Ekman, 1973) students were shown stressful films either in isolation or in the presence of others. When the respondents watched the movie alone it produced highly similar facial expressions connected to the specific basic emotions of fear, disgust and sadness in both Japanese and American participants. However, when in the presence of others Japanese students displayed significantly fewer negative expressions compared to the U.S. participants. Americans on the other hand continued to display negative emotions when others were present. These results suggest that even basic universal emotional expressions are modified by cultural values and by what is considered appropriate emotional behavior in the social context. When in the presence of others Japanese respondents smiled when exposed to the stressful stimuli a response encouraged by cultural values of courtesy and by the desire not to offend the experimenter.
Ekman and Friesen (1969) suggested several ways by which cultural display rules modify emotional expression. Members of a culture may be encouraged to display more or less emotion than truly felt. People in a cultural group can also regulate emotions to the point that nothing is displayed in facial expressions. At times members of a culture may wish to conceal feelings for a variety of reasons and display a different emotion by putting on a mask. Culture also expects conformity and may in some cases encourage the display of socially appropriate but fake emotions even when members don’t feel anything.
Self-report studies confirm these cultural restraints on emotional display. In one study comparing respondents in the U.S. with participants in Hungary and Poland the subjects were asked to rate appropriate expressions for the basic emotions when alone, in the company of ingroup members like family or friends, and with strangers. The results supported cultural differences in the display of emotions with the U.S. sample more open in the display of negative emotions compared to the respondents from Eastern Europe who believed it more appropriate to display positive emotions. In conclusion all cultural groups experience similar emotions, but differences in display between cultures are governed by social expectations and appropriateness.
7.2.2 Individualistic versus collectivistic cultures: Display rules in emotion intensity and negativity ratings.
Although criticized by some (Matsumoto, 1999) the collectivism-individualism cultural dimension has experienced broad acceptance in cross-cultural psychology. The role of the self as related to relationships with others is especially a salient psychological component experienced differentially in the two cultural value dimensions. Saving the face of others is important in collectivistic cultures, and preserving face is achieved by suppressing or withholding negative reactions. Cultural dimensions of individualism-collectivism affect the perception of negative emotions and suppress or enhance the intensity of emotional display.
Research has supported the presence of cultural effects when raters from individualistic societies are compared in evaluating the intensity of emotions with those from collectivistic countries. Asian respondents rated emotions at lower levels of intensity compared to Western samples. Matsumoto (1992a) studied Japanese and American respondents examining their reactions to photographs displaying the basic emotions. The results showed that the Japanese respondents rated the intensity of negative emotions lower compared to American participants. The explanation is that in Japan the display of negative emotions is discouraged as they are considered disruptive of social relations. Recognition of negativity is lower when negative emotions are not customarily displayed in society. On the other hand the U.S. respondents were more open to expressions of negativity and therefore better able to recognize these in facial photographs. Cultural dimensions especially those of collectivism-individualism, were thought responsible for differences in the perception of intensity of emotion.
In recent years the study of display rules has expanded significantly (McConatha, Lightner, & Deaner, 1994; Masumoto, Yoo, Anguas-Wong, Arriola, Ataca, & Bond, 2005). Matsumoto et al studied 5000 respondents from 30 countries using a Display Rules Assessment Inventory. The researchers asked what the respondents would do if seven basic emotions were felt in some 42 different situations. The major results supported the idea that the close intimacy of relationships provided the safe environment that allowed people to freely express emotions regardless of culture, and such relationships were also characterized by tolerance for a variety of behaviors that were less tolerated among strangers or acquaintances.
Collectivistic cultures however differed from individualistic societies by encouraging members to display more positive emotions and inhibit negative expressions toward the ingroup. That finding is consistent with the emphasis on maintaining harmony as a high cultural value. Individualistic cultures on the other hand produced more negative emotions and members displayed fewer positive feelings toward members of the ingroup since harmony is less valued and members of these societies think it appropriate to display negative emotions. Anyone observing the discourtesies of political debate in the U.S. would find no difficulty in concurring with these display rules in the U.S. On the other hand collectivistic cultures encourage more negative emotions toward outgroups because, in the view of Matsumoto et al, there is a need to strengthen ingroup relations by making a clear distinction between ingroup and outgroup members.
Cultural effects on emotion display are also found in the study of ethnic groups in the U.S. Although the findings are somewhat complex the Asians participants rated the display of contempt as less appropriate than Caucasian respondents consistent with the aforementioned cultural values of harmony and courtesy in collectivistic cultures (Matsumoto, 1992b). In conclusion research supports the idea that all humans possess the same inherited emotional template of the basic emotions, but how they are exhibited depend on socialization in culturally defined display rules.
7.2.3 Personal space and gestures: Cultural influences in non-verbal communication.
All societies define some space around the individual as personal, and only those invited to enter that area can do so without causing discomfort to the other person. Culture is a determinant of the amount of personal space required when communicating with others. Citizens of countries in Latin America, southern Europe and Arabia require less personal space and people stand very close when conversing (Hall, 1966). People from northern Europe and the U.S. on the other hand need more personal distance and become uncomfortable when others invade uninvited the subjective personal space. The cultural reasons for these differences are not well documented, but are related perhaps to population density. When large families live together in a small physical space this environment demands close personal contact and that space requirement is habituated and translated to other relationships. Personal space varies between cultures, and within cultures depends on class differences that produce varying modes of habituation.
Emotions evolved to communicate important information (Fridlund, 1997). Gestures are forms of nonverbal communication and when used in bargaining can be considered a primitive form of language. Some gestures are universally understood, for example the gesture "to come here" is probably understood all over the world, as is the general wave of the hand as a form of friendly greeting, and the open-handed military salute that evolved to express non-hostile intentions. However, not all gestures are uniformly used or understood. As noted in Bulgaria the head movement indicating agreement is opposite to that of other countries supporting a cultural basis for that signal. Gestures can easily become a source of confusion and misunderstanding between different cultural representatives. For example, the gesture signifying OK in the U.S. means “money” in Japan, “zero” in France, and in Russia, Brazil and Greece it is vulgar and sexually insulting (Ting-Toomey, 1999).
However, there are universal gestures like the shrug suggesting that some expressions may have an innate foundation (Argyle, 1988). Common cross-cultural gestures are also based on our shared human physiology and the need to express motion within the restriction our bodies. We should remember however, that cultures that co-evolved can also be expected to share many symbolic gestures that derive from common cultural roots. Cultural differences in gestures are more likely discovered in the frequency of usage (Graham & Argyle, 1975). People living in countries like Italy support well established stereotypes that they gesture excitedly in conversation, whereas members of other cultures use gestures more modestly.