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Cultural Differences in Emotions: A universal process model

Project Participants: 

Batja Mesquita, Claudia Marinetti, Michael Boiger (Center for Social and Cultural Psychology, K.U.Leuven, Belgium)

On the web: Acculturation and Culture Collaborative (Center for Social and Cultural Psychology, K.U.Leuven)

Project promotors: Batja Mesquita, Karen Phalet, Norbert Vanbeselaere

Co-applicant: Iven Van Mechelen

Doctoral and postdoctoral researchers: Michael Boiger, Claudia Marinetti

External collaborators: Shinobu Kitayama, Lisa Feldman Barrett

Funding: onderzoeksToelage (OT)

Period: 2008-2012


Will your experience of anger feel the same and look the same if you were raised in culture X as compared to culture Y?  To date, most of the research on cultural variation in emotion has started with the assumption that emotions are universal phenomena and that cultural variation, if it exists at all, is epiphenomenal to the emotion itself.  The current proposal forms a novel approach to the study of cultural variations in emotion by starting with the assumption that emotions are cultural artifacts (like music or language), where the variation across cultures is not icing on an already baked cake, but can be observed as different recipes. Conceiving of emotions as cultural artifacts does not mean that everything about emotions is cultural. In fact, a central idea of this proposal is precisely that, universally, emotions are embedded in and shaped by the specific socio-cultural contexts in which they occur.

The studies within this project will map the variety of emotional experiences within and across cultures. Emotional experience is conceived in terms of the associated components of meanings --the appraisal of the situation and the action readiness modes. We argue that these meanings are ‘cultured’, in that they must make reference to the cultural framework of meaning. We distinguish between three sources of variation in emotional experience: (1) the types of situations that occur, (2) the links between given types of situations and particular components of meaning, and  (3) the mapping of components of meaning (i.e., appraisals and action readiness modes) and emotion concepts.

The research will compare four cultural samples: mainstream American, mainstream (Dutch speaking) Belgian,Japanese, and Turkish students in their native countries. In a first series of studies, we will establish similarities and differences in the most prevalent themes of anger and shame antecedents. A second set of studies will establish the similarities and differences in the content of emotions across cultures, by examining the necessary and sufficient components of anger and shame in each culture. In a final study we will map cross-cultural variation in the links between situation types and component configurations on the one hand, and emotion category words on the other.

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