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How Culture Affects The Recognition Of Emotions

April 2008 - Research from the University of Alberta, Canada and Hokkaido University, Japan published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found significant differences in how people from eastern and western cultures assess interpersonal situations.

In the course of two studies, participants viewed group photographs comprising one central and four background figures. Researchers manipulated the facial emotions of all five (happy, angry, or sad) and asked participants to determine the dominant emotion of the central figure. The study found that 72 per cent of Japanese participants reported that their judgment was influenced by emotions displayed by all the figures in the group, while a similar percentage of North Americans reported not being influenced by the background figures at all.

Co-author Takahiko Masuda, a psychology professor from the University of Alberta said:

"What we found is quite interesting. Our results demonstrate that when North Americans are trying to figure out how a person is feeling, they selectively focus on that particular person's facial expression, whereas Japanese consider the emotions of the other people in the situation."

Researchers confirmed these findings by monitoring participants' eye movements demonstrating that Japanese looked at the surrounding people more than their western counterparts. While both groups looked to the central figure during the first second of viewing, Japanese participants immediately switched to the background figures while westerners continued to focus on the central figure.

Takahiko Masuda commented:

"East Asians seem to have a more holistic pattern of attention, perceiving people in terms of the relationships to others. People raised in the North American tradition often find it easy to isolate a person from its surroundings, while East Asians are accustom to read the air 'kuuki wo yomu' of the situation through their cultural practices, and as a result, they think that even surrounding people's facial expressions are an informative source to understand the particular person's emotion."

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