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Cultural Basics are the Same Almost Everywhere

As discussed in Chapter 3, facial expressions and smiles register the same meanings to people almost everywhere. Paul Ekman of the University of California, San Francisco, showed photographs of the emotions of happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise to people in 21 different cultures and found that in every case, the majority in each country agreed about the pictures that showed happiness, sadness and disgust. There was agreement by the majority in 20 out of the 21 countries for the surprise expressions, for fear on 19 out of 21 agreed and for anger, 18 out of 21 agreed. The only significant cultural difference was with the Japanese who described the fear photograph as surprise.

Ekman also went to New Guinea to study the South Fore culture and the Dani people of West Irian who had been isolated from the rest of the world. He recorded the same results, the exception being that, like the Japanese, these cultures could not distinguish fear from surprise.

He filmed these stone-age people enacting these same expressions and then showed them to Americans who correctly identified them all, proving that the meanings of smiling and facial expressions are universal.

The fact that expressions are inborn in humans was also demonstrated by Dr Linda Camras from DePaul University in Chicago. She measured Japanese and American infants' facial responses using the Facial Action Coding System (Oster & Rosenstein, 1991). This system allowed researchers to record, separate and catalogue infant facial expressions and they found that both Japanese and American infants displayed exactly the same emotional expressions.

So far in this book we have concentrated on body language that is generally common to most parts of the world. The biggest cultural differences exist mainly in relation to territorial space, eye contact, touch frequency and insult gestures. The regions that have the greatest number of different local signals are Arab countries, parts of Asia and Japan. Understanding cultural differences is too big a subject to be covered in one chapter so we'll stick to the basic things that you are likely to see abroad.

If a Saudi man holds another man's hand in public it's a sign of mutual respect. But don't do it in Australia, Texas or Liverpool, England  

Date: 2015-01-12; view: 722

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