Our research finds that, because achieving independence requires increased arousal and action, cultures that foster these goals value high-arousal positive states like passion, excitement, and enthusiasm. In contrast, because achieving interdependence requires decreased arousal and action, cultures that foster these goals value low-arousal positive states like calm, peacefulness, and balance.
These ideals matter because people use them to judge their own feelings, and, perhaps even more importantly, to judge the feelings of others. For instance, because European Americans value excitement more than Hong Kong Chinese, they rate “excited” faces (with broad toothy smiles) as much friendlier and warmer than “calm” faces (with closed smiles), compared to Hong Kong Chinese. And, because European Americans perceive excited (vs. calm) faces as friendlier and warmer, they share more money with excited vs. calm partners in economic games (e.g., the Dictator Game), compared to East Asians.
Experiencing and expressing cultural ideals can have life-altering consequences in the real world. When deciding whom to lend to on a web-based microlending platform (Kiva.com), people from countries with an excitement ideal loaned more to borrowers who had “excited” smiles in their profile photos and less to borrowers who had “calm” smiles. In a business setting, when selecting an intern, European Americans viewed the “ideal applicant” as being more excited (vs. calm), and chose more excited (vs. calm) applicants than Hong Kong Chinese did. Even in health settings, European Americans chose excitement-focused physicians who promoted dynamic lifestyles (vs. calm-focused physicians who promoted relaxing lifestyles) more than Hong Kong Chinese did. Interestingly, European Americans also recalled and adhered to the recommendations of the excitement- versus calm-focused physician more than East Asian Americans did. These findings suggest that people may also be more receptive to the advice and feedback of people who express their cultural ideal.
...in the context of a European American focus on passion, calm East Asian Americans are often inaccurately judged to be “cold” and “stoic” . This may explain why, compared to European Americans, East Asian Americans are less likely to be promoted to top leadership positions, a problem often described as “the Bamboo Ceiling”. But this might be avoided if teachers, employers, and other decision makers in individualistic cultures understood that in many cultures — as illustrated by the findings of Li et al. — passion matters less. Instead of passion, people are finding, following, and fueling calm, balance, and the other affective states that their cultures value more.