Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Differing perception of facial expressions in the East and West

Nagourney describes a study in the March issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reinforcing previous work showing that Westerners are more likely to see emotions as individual feelings while East Asians see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group. Many researchers have suggested that East Asians take a more holistic view of the world. Here is the abstract of the Masuda et al. article:
Two studies tested the hypothesis that in judging people's emotions from their facial expressions, Japanese, more than Westerners, incorporate information from the social context. In Study 1, participants viewed cartoons depicting a happy, sad, angry, or neutral person surrounded by other people expressing the same emotion as the central person or a different one. The surrounding people's emotions influenced Japanese but not Westerners' perceptions of the central person. These differences reflect differences in attention, as indicated by eye-tracking data (Study 2): Japanese looked at the surrounding people more than did Westerners. Previous findings on East-West differences in contextual sensitivity generalize to social contexts, suggesting that Westerners see emotions as individual feelings, whereas Japanese see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group.

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