|Altarriba, J., Basnight, D. M.,
& Canary, T. M. (2003). Emotion representation and perception across
cultures. In W. J. Lonner, D.
L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings
in Psychology and Culture (Unit 4, Chapter 5),
Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University,
Bellingham, Washington USA
This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."
UNIT 4, CHAPTER 5
EMOTION REPRESENTATION AND PERCEPTION ACROSS CULTURES
Altarriba, Dana M. Basnight, and Tina M Canary*
University at Albany, State University of New York
Are emotion words or emotion categories universal, or are particular emotions and emotion categories specific to certain cultures? The current review explores the answer to this question by summarizing the limited number of studies that have addressed this issue. The representation of emotion is discussed with regards to verbal and nonverbal (facial) processing, in turn. The evidence indicates that the answer is often conflicting and that issues such as methodological, linguistic, social and cultural variance have contributed to the often contradictory findings.
importance of understanding the representation and processing of emotion words
and concepts cannot be underestimated. It
is commonly known that the ability to recognize emotions in oneself and those of
others leads to a greater degree of positive mental health and well-being (see
e.g., Altarriba & Morier, in press). However,
there appears to be a dearth of literature concerning the ways in which emotion
word concepts are represented in the cognitive framework that is memory.
Further still, there is a need to expand upon the known research
concerning the identification of emotion in others vis a vis facial expressions
and facial displays. Cross-culturally,
it is known that words that label emotions are often language-specific, that is,
they are difficult to translate into a single word or a group of words in
another distinct language (Altarriba, in press). Therefore, there is an inherent challenge in trying to
discover whether or not the representation of emotions can be qualified as
"universal". The work
reviewed here presents a critical analysis of the extant literature that
directly relates to the above questions in both the verbal (word) and nonverbal
Representation of Emotion Concepts in Memory
One of the major models of emotion in the English language is the Circumplex Model of Affect proposed by Russell (1980). The Circumplex Model of Affect is a spatial model based on dimensions of affect that are interrelated in a very methodical fashion (Russell, 1980). Affective concepts fall in a circle in the following order: pleasure (0o ), excitement (45o), arousal (90o), distress (135o), displeasure (180o), depression (225o), sleepiness (270o), and relaxation (315o) (see Figure 1). According to this model, there are two components of affect that exist: (1) pleasure-displeasure, the horizontal dimension of the model, and (2) arousal-sleep, the vertical dimension of the model. Therefore, it seems that any affect word can be defined in terms of its pleasure and arousal components. The remaining four variables mentioned above do not act as dimensions, but rather help to define the quadrants of the affective space.
Figure 1: A circumplex model of affect.
an attempt to study the pan-cultural aspects of the conceptualization of
emotion, Russell (1983) compared the circular ordering for English emotion words
to that of four other languages--Croatian, Gujarati, Chinese (Cantonese), and
Japanese. Each participant was
given a deck of 28 cards, with one emotion term on each card.
Each participant was asked to sort the cards into 4, 7, 10, and 13 groups
on successive trials, with more similar emotional states grouped together.
Results revealed that a similar structure emerged for each language.
The emotion terms fell into a circular order among the two dimensions of
pleasure-displeasure and arousal-sleep. Although
individual words varied somewhat in their circular ordering and position space,
they never varied enough to obscure the overall configuration.
results of Russell's study (1983) suggest that emotion words are organized in a
similar pattern across cultures. However,
a few objections can be raised. First, it is possible that the particular sample of English
words on which the study is based may be responsible for the emergence of the
two major dimensions, pleasure-displeasure and arousal-sleep.
In other words, by including the terms "happy" and
"miserable" the pleasantness dimension was assured.
Also, by including the terms "aroused" and "sleepy",
arousal was assured. The second
objection suggests that the process of translation was responsible for the same
structure emerging in all five languages. It
is possible that the translation was carried out in such a manner that the
English meaning and structure of the word was still preserved.
Both of these arguments involve the particular set of words that were
a similar cross-cultural vein, Brandt and Boucher (1986) examined the concepts
of depression in the emotion lexicons of eight cultures, Australia, Indonesia,
Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and the United States.
The data for their research was part of a larger research project on the
native organization of "everyday" language of emotion in eight
cultural groups. Respondents in
each culture were asked to list all of the words that they could think of which
indicated emotion and completed the frame "I feel . . . ," or "I
am . . ." All of the words
were verified by a group of judges as acceptable members of the emotion lexicon
and represented true feelings such as "happy" or "anger",
but not "smile" or "smart".
Another independent sample of participants from each culture were asked
to sort the emotion terms into categories that made sense to them.
No restrictions were placed on the number of groups or number of words
per group that could be formed. A
cluster analysis was completed and at this point cluster labels, according to
meaning, were formed. Fluent
bilinguals translated the emotion labels and terms.
Half of the bilingual's first language was English and for the remaining
half their first language was the native language being studied.
indicated that groups of words that met the criterion for a depression cluster
were apparent in four of the eight culture language groups--Indonesia, Japan,
Sri Lanka, and the United States. The
emotion lexicons of the four remaining groups that did not reveal a depression
cluster did contain depression-type words.
Many of these depression-type words formed part of the cluster labeled
"sadness" in each of the four groups. Brandt and Boucher (1986) indicated that these four cultures,
Australia, Korea, Puerto Rico, and Malaysia, organize their lexicons around the
affective concept of sadness which subsumes depression, suggesting that
depression is a less salient organizational construct for these four groups.
and Boucher (1986) stated that the two pan-cultural depression results were: (a)
no association with positive affect, and (b) an intimate association with
every culture did not reveal a depression cluster, depression, as expressed in
the emotion words, was associated with sadness and seems to be apparent across
all of the cultures studied. It
seems logical to suggest that depression or an emotion similar to depression
might be considered universal. Culture
and social restraints and influences may cause this emotion to be expressed
somewhat differently across cultures, but it is still linked to sadness and
reflects a negative affect across all of the cultures studied.
Lenton, and Hutchison (1999) sought to claim that human universals are present
for emotion words and emotion lexicons. They
stated that universals have been demonstrated in natural language in semantics,
phonology, grammar, and so on. Hupka
et al. did not have access to native speakers of the languages that were used in
the study so they used dictionaries. It
is important to note that some researchers question the use of dictionaries
because they believe the emotion words in different languages are rarely
equivalent. Moreover, they claim
that emotion words are not simply labels for universal, internal feeling states,
but are more a reflection of social relations and interactions.
Despite these claims, Hupka et al. believe that these assertions should
not be cited as evidence that there are no universal categories of emotions and
that the use of dictionaries falsely assumes translation equivalence.
et al. (1999) attempted to establish whether the naming of emotion categories
evolved in a similar sequence across languages and to determine what may have
been the motivation for the naming of the initial stages.
The researchers used foreign dictionaries to establish whether an English
emotion category had an equivalent term in the other languages.
They then rank ordered the emotion categories (25 emotion categories were
used) from those that were present in all languages to those that were
infrequent across the languages. A
probability sample of 60 major geographical and linguistic groupings of the
world's languages was used.
indicated that the naming of emotion categories was relatively consistent across
the languages when English terms were used as the referents.
One third of the sample of languages had terms for all 25 of the emotion
categories. Of the remaining
languages, all had terms for at least 15 of the emotion categories.
These results suggest that the emotion lexicon is quite similar across
many different languages. These
results tend to support the universality of emotion words across cultures.
Markam, Sato, and Wiers (1995) also stated that there exists a high degree of
similarity in the emotion concepts of different languages.
In fact, a rather small set of emotion categories accounts for the most
frequently mentioned emotion words in many different languages.
Groups of subjects in 11 different cultures (Belgium, France,
Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, England, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Surinam, and
Turkey) were asked to name as many emotion words as they could in five minutes. The researchers then created a table of the 12 most
frequently mentioned words for each of the 11 groups.
unspecified positive emotion, "joy" or "happiness"
equivalents in English, occurred in 10 of the 11 groups.
An unspecified negative emotion, the equivalent of "sadness" in
English, occurred in all of the 11 groups, as well as, an emotional equivalent
to the word "anger", an emotion of negative personal reaction.
An emotional response to threat, "fear", and an emotion of
strong affection, "love", occurred in 10 of the 11 cultures.
These five categories, joy/happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and love
appear to be quite general or universal. However,
the other emotion words, such as a "hate" equivalent in English, are
less common across many cultures. It
is important to mention that this could be an underestimation because emotion
words across cultures may not have an exact equivalent across other cultures.
(1991) suggests the other possibility that different languages recognize
different emotions because emotion words in other languages do not exist in the
English language. For example, the
word "ijirashi" in Japanese refers to a feeling associated with seeing
someone praiseworthy overcoming an obstacle.
There is no English equivalent for this emotion word.
There are also English emotion words that are missing altogether in other
languages. The emotion word
"anxiety" does not exist among the Eskimos and Yorubas.
In addition, there is no translation equivalent for the word
"anxiety" in Chinese. There
is also the claim that there is no word for "depression" among many
non-Western cultural groups. However,
the study conducted by Brandt and Boucher (1986) suggests otherwise.
Depression-type words were a part of each culture studied, in both
Western and non-Western cultures. It
is also important to note that much of the research concerned with
cross-cultural similarities and differences in emotion lexicons focuses on
single words, such as "love" and "sadness".
Although there may not be a one word equivalent across cultures it is
possible that languages can express emotions and ideas other than those that are
coded in single words.
(1991) stated that it is quite difficult to obtain information on the prevalence
of the differences among emotion words in different cultures because counting
the number of emotion words is difficult and ethnographers tend to report
differences more than similarities. Russell
suggests that similarities may be taken for granted and mentioned in passing,
often to contrast with differences.
(1991) cited evidence that the concept of emotion may in fact be universal, as
described in the study conducted by Brandt and Boucher (1986).
Russell reviewed many studies and stated that regardless of the culture
studied, the same three dimensions of pleasure, arousal, and dominance were used
to make emotion judgments. Some
studies revealed that arousal and pleasure were the two dominant dimensions,
while others suggested that pleasure and dominance were the two most important
dimensions. Russell suggested that the reason that arousal emerged in
some studies and dominance in others could be due to the words used in the
may have emerged as the second dimension when the sample of words emphasized
interpersonal contexts and arousal-sleepiness may have emerged as the second
dimension when the sample words emphasized non-interpersonal contexts.
major focus of cross-cultural research has been basic emotion theory.
This theory states that basic emotions are supposed to be part of the
human potential and therefore universal (Mesquita, Frijda, & Scherer, 1997).
Mesquita et al. stated that most languages possess limited sets of
emotion-labeling words that refer to a small number of commonly occurring
emotions, such as sadness, joy, anger, and fear.
The "basic" emotions generally include "anger",
"fear", "happiness", "sadness", and
"disgust" (Russell, 1991). Mesquita
et al. pointed out that researchers have had great success translating English
terms for emotions into many other languages.
Further, research has revealed that basic emotion categories, with
lexical equivalents in all languages, are also the most frequently used emotion
words in most cultures.
Mesquita et al. (1997) also pointed out that there are differences in the
connotations and meanings of emotion terms across languages.
The term "lexical equivalents" is not the same as
"linguistic equivalents". In other words, although words may be translated across
languages their meanings may not be the same or even similar across cultures.
The research reviewed thus far has not painted a clear picture about the
universality of emotion words across cultures.
Some research has suggested that emotion words, particularly the basic
emotions are universal; however, that notion has not gone uncontested.
The fact that translation equivalents are present does not guarantee that
the meaning or use of the word is the same. This seems to beg the question, "Why do emotion lexicons
vary across cultures?"
has been suggested that emotion lexicons may differ across cultures because of
cultural regulations and the relationship between a person and others (Semin,
Gorts, Nandram, & Semin-Goossens, 2002).
It is believed that such cultural variations may reflect how emotions and
emotion events are represented in language. Semin et al. (2002) studied cultural variations in the
representation of emotions by investigating how people in different cultures
talked about emotions and emotional events.
It is believed that differences in emotion terms and events may reflect
the social differences across cultures.
cultures that value individualism, emotion terms are more likely to be
individual or self-markers because individual preferences and goals prevail over
group goals, thoughts, and feelings. In
contrast, in a socio-centered culture, emotion terms would be more prominent as
relationship-markers because the thoughts, feelings, and goals of the group are
valued more highly than those of the individual.
Semin et al. suggested that one way of determining whether emotions are
used as self-markers or relationship-markers is by means of the relative
frequency of different grammatical categories, such as verbs and nouns, which
are spontaneously mentioned.
et al. (2002) used the Linguistic Category Model or LCM (Semin & Fiedler,
1988) as a framework to examine the relative prominence of different emotion
terms and the linguistic characteristics of emotion event descriptions.
The researchers hypothesized that in cultures where group goals are
predominant, the use of concrete language, mostly interpersonal verbs, would be
more accessible than abstract language, such as adjectives and nouns, because
concrete language marks relationships. However,
in cultures where individualism is emphasized it was expected that abstract
language would be more accessible.
the first study, Semin et al. (2002) focused on the relative prominence of
different linguistic categories in the spontaneous listing of emotion terms, as
well as examining whether the causes of emotional events were perceived to be
individual or interpersonal, and the degree to which significant others were
perceived to shape emotion events. Hindustani-Surinamese
(group-focused culture) and Dutch (individually-focused culture) participants
were given four tasks: (a) an emotion term generation task, (b) generate five
examples of critical life events or five critical emotions that one might
experience, (c) generate emotions that are likely to occur in those critical
life events or the types of situations that gave rise to the critical emotions,
and (d) judge the relative contribution that others made to shape the events
they had listed. All subjects were
also given a 17-item independence-interdependence scale with three
sub-dimensions, traditional interdependence, independence-dependence, and family
results of the emotion generation task were analyzed and revealed that the Dutch
participants listed significantly more emotions than did the
Hindustani-Surinamese participants. It
was also found that the Hindustani-Surinamese used more state verbs and fewer
state referent nouns than the Dutch. Also,
the Hindustani-Surinamese participants mentioned significantly more
interpersonal events than did the Dutch and significant others had a stronger
influence on the Hindustani-Surinamese participants.
These results supported the hypothesis suggesting that emotional events
and emotion lexicons may vary due to social differences across cultures.
second study conducted by Semin et al. (2002) addressed the structure of emotion
events by examining the overall pattern of predicate use as a function of
cultural background. Again, the
researchers expected that the language used to represent emotion events would be
more abstract in cultures where individual goals prevail over group goals and
concrete language would be used more often in cultures that value group goals
over individual goals. Dutch and
Turkish participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that consisted of
two parts: (a) an event-description task and (b) an emotion-description task.
The Dutch participants represented an individualistic culture and the
Turkish participants represented the collectivist culture.
results once again supported the prediction.
The Dutch participants used more abstract language to represent emotions
and emotion events, while the Turkish participants used more concrete language
for the same tasks. These two
studies revealed that individualistic cultures and collectivist cultures
represent emotions and emotional events using different linguistic markers and
levels of abstraction. It seems
logical to suggest that culture affects one's emotional lexicon. However, it would be interesting to see if the emotion words
reported by the different cultures were in fact the same or at least had a
similar meaning for the different contexts studied. These differences were either not studied or not reported in
the current study.
study that compared the similarity of the words generated may be more telling of
the cross-cultural similarity of the emotion lexicon across cultures.
However, the study conducted by Semin et al. (2002) provides a possible
explanation for the differences found in the emotion lexicons across cultures.
Studying emotions across cultures has proven to be a difficult task.
It seems some want to argue that there must be exact translation
equivalents for each and every emotion word, while others believe that the
universality of basic emotion categories provides evidence that there is
cross-cultural similarity of emotions. Emotion
research is often plagued by the lack of a commonly accepted definition of the
word "emotion". This
problem makes it even more difficult to study emotion across cultures and to
accept a distinct position on the results of such research.
Processing of Facial Expressions Across Cultures
additional method often used to determine how one's culture influences emotional
development and perception is facial expression recognition.
This area of cross-cultural research has seen a steady increase in
interest ever since Darwin's, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals
was first published in 1872. This
work emphasized that facial expressions were primarily a result of genetic and
hereditary factors. Meanwhile,
other research has indicated that one's environment plays a more influential
role in determining how emotion is expressed.
For example, Piderit (1925, cited in Izard, 1980) suggested that
environmental factors were more influential, a conclusion he came to by
observing that the amount of expression elicited by blind people was positively
correlated with the length of time that each individual had sight prior to their
current condition. Therefore, it is
apparent that the main question arising from these two pieces of very early work
is whether genetic or environmental factors are more responsible for the way
that emotion is visually expressed. Cross-cultural
research aimed at examining the way different cultures categorize or recognize
certain facial expressions has been able to shed some light on this rather
the early 1970's, research conducted on the way in which facial expressions were
categorized across cultures indicated that eight different
emotions--interest-excitement, joy, surprise, distress-anguish,
disgust-contempt, anger, shame, and fear were
perceived the same way in American, European, South American and Asian cultures
(Dickey & Knower, 1941; Ekman & Friesen, 1972; Izard, 1968).
Ekman et al. (1969, as cited in Izard, 1980) expanded this area of
research to preliterate cultures. The
participants in their study were from an isolated area of New Guinea, which
allowed for very little Western influence.
Extra effort was taken to ensure that those who actually participated in
the experiment had never been exposed to Western society, had never seen
television or magazines, and had never worked for a Caucasian person.
Whereas previous experiments required participants to label or categorize
emotions observed in photographs, the methodology employed in this study was
slightly different. Ekman et
al. presented participants with three different pictures of emotion expressions
representing either happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, anger or fear.
The experimenters verbally described a story that depicted one of the
emotions in the pictures, to which participants determined which emotion was
being described. The results
indicated that significantly correct responses were obtained for all of the
pictures, except for instances when fear and surprise were presented in the same
trial. However, when compared with
other emotions, correct responses to fear and surprise were observed.
Therefore, the apparent universality of these six emotions provides
support for the idea of an innate emotion perceptual ability in humans.
Ekman's (1972, cited in Izard, 1980) review of research on facial expression
judgment, Fridlund, Ekman and Oster's (1987) literature review analyzed more
recent work conducted on the topic. This
review, incorporating fifteen years of additional research, supported the
previous conclusion that there is universality among six basic
emotions--happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger and disgust.
data gathered over several decades proved to be fairly consistent for these six
emotions, research from the past decade has been useful in narrowing down
specific cultural and methodological factors that appear to influence
participant's responses. Schimmack
(1996) was able to determine which factors are most influential by analyzing
data from various studies in a stepwise regression analysis.
The purpose of this study was to examine why Ekman's data revealed better
accuracy for the recognition of surprise and sadness when compared to Izard's
participants. In addition, a second
trend in Ekman's research indicated that disgust was more poorly recognized than
it was in Izard's work. Schimmack
(1996) was also concerned with why Caucasian participants tended to recognize
emotions more accurately than other races.
Lastly, the amount of influence elicited by cultural dimensions of
uncertainty avoidance (UAI) and individualism (IDV) were analyzed.
The individualism factor (IDV) was hypothesized to influence accuracy
scores in that individualistic cultures tend to be more receptive to negative
emotions than do collectivistic cultures. The
dimension of uncertainty avoidance (UAI) predicts that individuals raised in
cultures that are high in this type of avoidance will not feel as comfortable in
new or uncertain situations and therefore tend to avoid any type of situation
that has potential to elicit fear. This naturally leads to the hypothesis that
UAI will affect facial expression perception by decreasing one's ability to
recognize fear expressions since they have been infrequently observed.
regression analysis carried out consisted of 23 samples from 17 countries.
Initially, Schimmack (1996) determined whether each culture should be
classified as Caucasian or non-Caucasian. This
was done using the definition of Caucasian presented in the Encyclopedia
Britannica. However, it is
mentioned that this type of classification may be problematic in that some
countries are composed of many ethnic groups.
For example, the United States consists of not only Caucasian people, but
of significant numbers of African Americans, Asians, and Latinos.
results from this analysis indicated that discrepancies in Ekman and Izard's
data may be due to the number of emotions that were included in each trial.
For example, participants in Izard's studies were less accurate at
recognizing surprise and sadness when additional options such as interest and
shame were also included. As would
be expected, larger set size led to increased confusion among emotion
categories, which resulted in poorer recognition.
In a similar vein, it was observed that Ekman's data produced lower
accuracy for the recognition of disgust whenever contempt was presented as well.
This further supports the idea that set size is an influential factor in
facial recognition tasks (Schimmack, 1996).
regards to ethnic variables influencing expression recognition accuracy, the
results indicated that Caucasians produce more accurate responses when
recognizing happiness, fear, anger and disgust, but not when recognizing
surprise or sadness. Data
broken down to analyze each specific emotion indicated that happiness had higher
accuracy when judged by individualistic cultures.
As predicted, fear appeared to be significantly affected by UAI. Lastly, emotions of anger and disgust were most influenced by
the ethnic variable, with Caucasians being more accurate than non-Caucasians.
Overall, the author was able to determine that the Caucasian factor, type
of study and UAI were responsible for more than 70% of the variation observed
across all studies. This analysis allows for a better understanding of how
specific factors are capable of influencing the results of cross-cultural
studies conducted on facial expression recognition.
With regards to methodology, additional implications resulting from this
research suggest that set size (the number of categories presented to
participants on each trial) should be considered more carefully in future work.
recent research conducted on facial expression perception has been specifically
aimed at examining how genetic factors influence recognition accuracy.
In a study conducted by Teitelbaum and Geiselman (1997) participants
representing either African American, White, Latino, or Asian ethnic groups were
randomly assigned a packet containing two written passages, one designed to
induce a positive mood on the individual and a second that would serve to induce
an unpleasant mood. Half of
the participants read the pleasant mood passage first, while the other half read
the unpleasant one first. Each
passage contained blank areas throughout the story, allowing participants to
fill in words that corresponded with their thoughts and mood at the time.
The experimenter also questioned individuals after they read each passage
to ensure that they were accurately receptive to the mood inducing passage.
Participants were shown 20 pictures of African American and White faces (10
photographs for each mood). In
addition, equal numbers of each race were depicted in the pictures (Teitelbaum
& Geiselman, 1997).
the testing portion of the experiment, participants were shown 20 pictures.
However, this time half of the photographs were new and half were old.
Individuals had to decide if the face presented was previously seen or
not. The results indicated a
cross-race recognition effect in that African American and White participants
had higher accuracy ratings for faces corresponding with their own race than
with those pictures that did not. With
regards to Latinos and Asians, it was observed that they were capable of
recognizing White faces as well as White participants; however, they showed more
difficulty than African American participants when recognizing African American
faces. Lastly, the data revealed
that participants had higher accuracy ratings when they experienced an
unpleasant mood than when they were in a pleasant mood (Teitelbaum &
this experiment mainly focused on face recognition and did not directly explore
the way that facial expressions are interpreted, the data presented prove to be
helpful by once again showing how certain methodological factors can influence
the outcome of a study. Since it
appears that certain races are better adapted to recognizing faces from their
own culture, it will be important for cross-cultural researchers exploring
facial expressions to include a variety of ethnic faces in their experimental
materials so that participants will not produce results that are heavily
affected by cultural bias. This
study also reveals that a person's mood may affect their perception of faces. Therefore, it may be helpful for experimenters looking at
facial expression recognition to question and document the mood of each
individual participant prior to data collection.
This may provide additional insight into why some individuals are more
sensitive to certain expressions, as well as revealing if some cultures are more
or less affected by their mood at the time of study.
an effort to create a good set of pictures expressing emotion, Wang and Markham
(1999) examined how Chinese participants rated facial expressions produced by
Chinese people in previously taken photographs.
In line with previously discussed studies, these authors chose to analyze
the six basic emotions--happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust,
that appear to be universal across cultures.
Adding support to a common trend observed in other studies, their results
indicated that happiness and sadness produced the strongest and most consistent
agreement of the six emotions. The
emotion of anger was also determined to have very high agreement and
consistency. However, it was occasionally mistaken for disgust in a few cases.
The results also showed that fear and surprise were commonly confused; however,
the authors did add that posers often experienced difficulty when trying to
create an expression that accurately depicted fear.
Finally, the emotion of disgust proved to have the worst percentage
agreement of the six emotions. The
authors suggest that not only is disgust difficult to pose for, but it is also
difficult to recognize, an observation that extends back to some of the earlier
work on facial expression recognition.
the results from Wang and Markham's (1999) work appear to support much of the
previous work conducted on facial expression, in order to gain a better
understanding of emotion recognition in other cultures, it would be interesting
to present the photograph set selected to be the most valid in this study to
people of different ethnic backgrounds. In
addition, if one wants to form a stronger conclusion on how Chinese people
perceive facial expressions, it is essential to replicate this study using not
only Chinese faces, but those of White, Black and Latino individuals as well.
a very recent study, Matsumoto et al. (2002) examined the way that American and
Japanese participants judged facial expressions.
This experiment was unique in that it is the first experiment designed to
test how facial expressions of varying intensities are perceived in two
different cultures. American and
Japanese participants were presented with computer generated pictures of
Japanese and Caucasian faces depicting one of nine emotion choices--anger,
contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, no emotion, and other. Upon viewing each picture, individuals were instructed to
determine which emotion best described the picture, to rate the intensity of the
emotion expressed using a nine point scale, and to rate the intensity level that
they believed the poser was experiencing in the picture.
If the participant decided that "other" best represented the
picture, they were urged to write down the emotion that they felt accurately
described the expression presented.
results indicated that low intensity expressions were correctly recognized at
levels above chance and that these expressions also differed from the responses
given for neutral expressions. Therefore,
it appears that individuals are capable of correctly recognizing emotions even
when they are presented at lesser degrees and may not be as blatantly obvious.
However, when compared to high intensity expressions, it was evident that
agreement levels for low intensity expressions were more inconsistent.
In regards to differences across cultures, further analysis revealed that
the two groups did not differ in the way that they categorized the facial
expressions. However, analyses of
the ratings produced by participants at high intensity levels of expressions
indicated that Americans rated internal experience as lower than external
displays, while Japanese participants did not show any differences in the
ratings at this level. Interestingly,
at low intensity levels of expression, Americans did not show any differences in
their ratings, but Japanese participants tended to give higher ratings to
internal experience than to external observation.
This suggests that when Japanese view facial expressions at low
intensities, they tend to think that the poser is experiencing a more intense
feeling of the emotion than is actually portrayed.
On the other hand, when Americans view high intensity expressions, it is
thought that they perceive emotions as being portrayed in an exaggerated way and
therefore are inclined to think that the poser does not feel the emotion as
intensely as the facial expressions suggests (Matsumoto et al., 2002).
fact that this study is the first of its kind to examine intensity levels
suggests that there are many factors that can be manipulated in future work on
facial expression across cultures. Intuitive
experiments designed to examine some of these factors are necessary to increase
understanding of specific aspects of certain cultures that might otherwise be
left unexplained. Therefore, it is
important that this study be replicated with other cultures, especially since
the sample size was relatively small in the current study, a factor that may
have affected the results. However,
it is apparent that the methodology utilized here will serve as a stepping-stone
for future work
conclusion, several decades of cross-cultural research appear to suggest that
there is an element of universality in regards to some of the basic fundamental
human emotions. However, in
addition to some of the methodological issues of concern already discussed,
there are several other problems that may influence cross-cultural research in
this domain. Russell (1991) brings up a very important point in that
studies requiring participants to choose an emotion label from a prespecified
list that best corresponds with a presented picture may result in an inability
to show "precise equivalence of the emotion concepts in the
different cultures" (Russell, 1991, p. 435).
For example, Russell (1991) proposes that if a participant is shown a
picture of a smiling person, they would be inclined to choose the word happy
from a list of sad, happy, afraid or angry.
However, if the word happy was replaced by the word elated,
the participant would now choose this word being that it is the only word in the
list with positive connotation. He
points out that any positive word ranging from content to ecstatic
would result in a similar response. Basically
this means that forced-choice tasks may require a person to make a judgment that
is not culturally sensitive to the actual meaning of the emotion being examined.
Therefore, it is suggested that this problem may be potentially
responsible for cross-cultural research showing that people from different
cultures interpret facial expressions in a similar manner.
This response biasness often arises because cross-cultural studies of
this nature involve creating a list of emotion words in English that are then
translated into the specific language used by the culture being studied.
For this reason, it is quite possible that the translated emotion word
choices in the other language are not good representatives of the emotions that
one wishes to examine.
In addition to this language problem, there are also other cultural differences that may influence the data that are produced by facial recognition studies. For example, not all facial expressions are the same in every culture. Although common emotions are expressed, it is possible that some of these emotions are expressed in different ways, using different hand gestures and facial movements. Lastly, a longtime concern in cross-cultural research that must be addressed in these types of experiments as well is the testing situation employed by experimenters. If two cultures are to be examined and compared, it is essential that similar testing situations be used and proficient translators be employed to present experimental tasks in an unbiased way.
What are the two major dimensions of Russell's Circumplex model of affect?
Why might arousal constitute one dimension instead of dominance?
Do you believe that the presence of depression-type words, but no
depression cluster, is convincing evidence for the universality of depression?
Is it reasonable to study single words across cultures to determine the
universality of emotions or might phrases and ideas be more appropriate?
Distinguish between "lexical equivalents" and "linguistic
How might culture and socialization influence a culture's emotion
What do you believe was the most convincing evidence for the universality
of emotion across cultures? What
was the most convincing evidence for the non-universality of emotions across
Can you think of any facial expressions or gestures used to signify
emotion that are specific to one culture and are not universal?
Can you think of any reasons why Schimmack's
(1996) data indicated that Caucasians produce more accurate responses
when recognizing happiness, fear, anger and disgust, but not when recognizing
surprise or sadness? Are there
specific characteristics of Caucasian society that would be responsible for this
How might specific child-rearing practices in certain cultures influence
one's emotional development and the way that they express emotion?
We have already seen how cultural variables (individualism vs. collectivism,
uncertainty avoidance, etc.), genetic factors and methodological issues (set
size of emotions presented, number of participants, and testing situation) can
be important factors in influencing data. What
additional methodological factors do you think should be regulated when
designing an experiment within this area of study?
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1. The circumplex model of affect
Altarriba, Ph.D. is an Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
and Associate Professor of Psychology, at the University at Albany, State
University of New York. She
received her degree at Vanderbilt University specializing in Cognitive
Psychology and Psycholinguistics. Her
primary research interests are bilingualism, second language acquisition and
representation, and the interaction between language, memory, and perception.
Dr. Altarriba has published numerous scientific journal articles and is
the editor of two volumes of research--Cognition and Culture:
A Cross-Cultural Approach to Cognitive Psychology and Bilingual
Sentence Processing (co-edited with Roberto R. Heredia). Her more recent book, co-edited with Roberto R. Heredia is
entitled An Introduction to Bilingualism:
Principles and Processes and is currently in preparation.
M. Basnight is a graduate student in the doctoral program in cognitive
psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
Her current research interests include cross-language priming effects and
the mental representation of concepts in the bilingual lexicon.
She recently presented a paper entitled Cross-Language Priming
Effects: A Theoretical and
Empirical Review at the VIII Conference on Applied Linguistics, Universidad
de las Am‚ricas, Cholula, Puebla, México.
M. Canary is a graduate student in the doctoral program in cognitive
psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
Her research interests include the processing of emotion words across
languages and emotion word representation in monolingual and bilingual memory.
Her work was recently presented as a paper entitled Emotion Word
Representation in Spanish: An
Investigation of Repetition and Semantic Priming in Spanish-English Bilinguals
at the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Arizona State University,
Correspondence may be sent to:
Department of Psychology
Social Science 112
University at Albany
State University of New York
Albany, New York 12222