Rychlowska et al. analyze cultural display rules from 32 countries to reveal that the extent to which a country’s present-day population descends from numerous versus few source countries is associated with norms favoring greater emotional expressivity.
A small number of facial expressions may be universal in that they are produced by the same basic affective states and recognized as such throughout the world. However, other aspects of emotionally expressive behavior vary widely across culture. Just why do they vary? We propose that some cultural differences in expressive behavior are determined by historical heterogeneity, or the extent to which a country’s present-day population descended from migration from numerous vs. few source countries over a period of 500 y. Our reanalysis of data on cultural rules for displaying emotion from 32 countries reveals that historical heterogeneity explains substantial, unique variance in the degree to which individuals believe that emotions should be openly expressed. We also report an original study of the underlying states that people believe are signified by a smile. Cluster analysis applied to data from nine countries, including Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States, reveals that countries group into “cultures of smiling” determined by historical heterogeneity. Factor analysis shows that smiles sort into three social-functional subtypes: pleasure, affiliative, and dominance. The relative importance of these smile subtypes varies as a function of historical heterogeneity. These findings thus highlight the power of social-historical factors to explain cross-cultural variation in emotional expression and smile behavior.