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Role of Affect in the Expression of Culture

April 15, 2009

ABSTRACT—We present a novel role of affect in the expression of culture. Four experiments tested whether individuals’ affective states moderate the expression of culturally normative cognitions and behaviors. We consistently found that value expressions, self-construals, and behaviors were less consistent with cultural norms when individuals were experiencing positive rather than negative affect. Positive affect allowed individuals to explore novel thoughts and behaviors that departed from cultural constraints, whereas negative affect bound people to cultural norms. As a result, when Westerners experienced positive rather than negative affect, they valued self-expression less, showed a greater preference for objects that reflected conformity, viewed the self in more interdependent terms, and sat closer to other people. East Asians showed the reverse pattern for each of these measures, valuing and expressing individuality and independence more when experiencing positive than when experiencing negative affect. The results suggest that affect serves an important functional purpose of attuning individuals more or less closely to their cultural heritage.

Source

In short, people who feel good tend to explore novel thoughts and behaviors, whereas those who feel bad tend to be bound by the cultural constraints.

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2 comments

  1. That’s an interesting report. But it confused me a little bit… it almost implies that what makes a poor negative attitude in one country is actually healthy and good in another. So is self-expression and independence bad? Or is socialization bad? As with everything, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

    I’m not an expert in cultural differences and I could be totally wrong in this interpretation, but it sounds like a case of: balance.

    It sounds less like “one is bad, the other is good” and more like the feelings of people in each culture are naturally “off-balance” per se, at first.

    I mean nobody’s born with a mature adult mind, it takes some growing up– and this report implies that it’s not until someone’s in a positive mood that they’re willing to go out-of-the-box and step forward, try out that more balanced life. Here’s what I mean…

    This report states that negative Western people are very independent. Sounds accurate… we all know the gloomy teenage syndrome. :D Lots of self expression, sometimes a “stand-out” image of many piercings or tattoos, fighting with parents… Americans are just naturally born as general self-focused introverts who care about our own feelings and finding our own way in life more than most anything.

    And when we Westernese are thinking positively, we start walking forward and picking up what we lacked in socialization. We talk with other people, discover that watching humans can be *really* interesting (they’re so silly :P). We’ll try out the same brands of clothes, the same music, so we can have something in common, and have something fun to talk about. Though we’re grown-ups, we’ll actually call our parents every week to catch up. Or though we’re teens, we’ll actually go out of our way to spend time with the folks or the little brothers/sisters, even if it takes away from personal video game time.

    Basically, Westerns usually have enough self-expression and independence to go around. But being there to help others, being friendly, giving some personal time occasionally to be the ones you love… living the balanced life… does not come naturally to us, and it usually takes a positive mindset for a person to move forward like that.

    Personally, I feel the best joy comes from giving like that.

    On the other hand, negative East Asian people have little problem with socialization and tend to follow the same cultural trends and norms. Sounds accurate… again I’m not the expert, but from what I know, East Asians usually grow up in a very family and honor-based environment. While in America we naturally feel like taking care of and honoring ourselves, Asians naturally care very much about their families and heritage, honoring and thanking and following those to whom it is due. And because they’re thinking is naturally other-people-based, they like to do things as a crowd.

    Seriously, compare any Jpop concert to an American-pop concert. In Japan, almost the entire concert audience will be happily jumping, waving, singing, or cheering altogether. In America, some will be clapping and singing along, some will be jumping, some will stand still and just enjoy listening. You starting to see a trend here?

    East Asians are naturally socialistic people, so they honor their families and others, and do things as a crowd… and when they feel negative, they do what feels natural and follow many of the same cultural norms and trends (and hairstyles!) as everyone else.

    As expected though, when an individual has a positive mindset, they start exhibiting more self-expression, individuality, and uncommon out-of-the-box thoughts. I have trouble picturing what that means in this report… in America, self-expressionism *usually* means rebellious selfishness, but I know it can also refer to creativity and higher adult thinking. I hope and assume it’s talking about the latter. That is, a positive life for the East Asian isn’t so much about what other people say and do, but also about finding their own way and purpose and feelings in it all.

    So Westernese are naturally self-expressing, while East Asianese are naturally socialistic. When either are feeling negative, they just do what feels natural. But when feeling positive, they step “out-of-the-box” (which ironically is the opposite for each culture) and end up thinking in a more balanced way.

    Again, I might not be totally accurate with this interpretation, but it seems like the best explanation. I’m always open to further thoughts and opinions! Thanks for reading. =)

    P.S. It looks like I just wrote an essay!!! Haha, wow, my apologies for that. And being a huge anime fan, its amusing how I end up replying to all your non-anime blog posts. :P


    • Thank you for your essay :)

      When either are feeling negative, they just do what feels natural. But when feeling positive, they step “out-of-the-box” (which ironically is the opposite for each culture) and end up thinking in a more balanced way.

      Yes, that’s the essence of the report :)

      I guess people tend to have quite a positive affect on Sundays at Harajuku :P



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