Plenary Meeting of the International Society for Research on Emotion location:Berkeley, CA date:2-6 August 2013
Positive and negative emotions are desired and experienced to different degrees in North America and East Asia. While Americans tend to prefer positive over negative emotions, East Asians are more dialectic in accepting both positive and negative emotions as part of human existence. These preferences appear to be in line with the respective cultural concerns: By maximizing positive feelings and avoiding ambivalence, Americans maintain independence and positive self-esteem; by aiming for emotional balance and tolerating contradiction, Japanese preserve interdependence and social harmony. The present study aimed to show that these cultural preferences also manifest themselves in people’s self-concepts. We expected that Americans primarily associate positive emotions with themselves, while Japanese endorse positive and negative emotions equally as part of their self-concept. Moreover, we expected that Belgians, who favor a more egalitarian form of individualism, fall in-between the Americans and the Japanese. In a “Me/Not Me” reaction time task, N = 179 students from the US, Japan, and Belgium indicated for a range of positive and negative emotions if these emotions describe themselves. Both their explicit responses as well as their response latencies confirmed our predictions: Americans associated positive emotions more strongly with their self-concept than negative emotions, while Japanese associated positive and negative emotions to an equal extent; the Belgian participants associated positive emotions more than negative with themselves, but to a lesser extent than the Americans. Our findings support the idea that positive and negative emotions make up part of people’s self-concept in line with their respective cultural concerns.