How Culture Shapes our Feelings: Implications for Happiness with Jeanne Tsai

[MUSIC] Stanford University.>>I’ve been really looking forward to this day to welcome
you back to Stanford In my intro to personality and ethic of
science class which I teach every year, I always tell the students to
keep an eye out for the alums. Because, even though you guys are here
to see your fiends and to sort of see the changes that have happened at
Stanford, a lot of the students and a lot of the other alums are looking to you to
see what their lives are gonna be like. 5 years, 10 years, 15 years down the line. And it’s always good news when
they see you walking around. So, it’s always a thrill for
me to see all of you guys come back. Some of you were here
before I was here and some of you were here after I’d been here. And it’s just a thrill as a faculty
member to always see alums come back. So thank you for coming. So today what I’m gonna do is tell you
about research that we’ve been doing ever since I was actually
an undergraduate here. Looking at the role that culture
plays in our every day lives. When I first started doing this research, there wasn’t very much in
the field of Psychology. So I’m really thrilled to tell you that
what we’ve learned over the past 20 plus years. So how does culture shape our emotions? This is a question that I think
a lot of people have asked, especially if you’ve had any kind of
experience in another cultural context. Whether you were raised in a culture
that’s different from the one in the United States,
mainstream American culture. Or whether you’ve spent time and
traveled in other culture contexts. So like I said, when I graduated from Stanford I
went to the Cal for graduate school. And I know.
I know but I’m back here so it’s okay! [LAUGH]
>>[LAUGH]>>And there was actually most of the work on culture and
emotion came from anthropology. Are there any anthropology
majors in the audience? All right. And most of that work was really
what we call thick description. So it would go into different
culture contexts and look at the different kinds of rituals and
that revolved around emotion. And, most of that work concluded that, emotions are almost entirely
culturally constructed. But, in psychology, where there
was just a little bit of research, most of the studies
suggested just the opposite. They suggested that there were more
cultural similarities than there were differences in emotion. And in fact when I started
doing work in graduate school using state of the art methods in
emotion to try to understand how culture influence emotion we found
more similarities than differences. So for example we would
bring European Americans and Chinese Americans who where
oriented to both Chinese and American cultures please come
in there’s seats over here yeah. [LAUGH] No, no problem. Welcome.>>Sorry.>>We bring them into the lab, and
we’d have them watch emotionally evocative films, or we’d have them relive different
emotional episodes in their lives. We even had couples come into the lab and
talk about really heated topics. In the relationships in the lab. And all the while we were measuring
their physiological responses. How fast their hearts were beating,
how much they were sweating. We were videotaping them to look
at their facial expressions. And we would ask them to tell
us how they were feeling when they were in the throws of
different emotional episodes. And again, what we found was mainly
cultural similarities in their responses. Particularly in their physiological
responses and in how they reported feeling, but also similarities in
what they showed on their faces. More similarities than differences. And so we were really wondering well,
who’s right? Is it the anthropologists that are right,
is it the psychologists that are right? Is there a way in which we can reconcile
these different findings and so when I started as a faculty
member at Stanford in 2000, we were really trying to find a way to
integrate these different literatures. And we came up with what I’m going
to talk with you about today, which is call Affec valuation theory and
I’m just proud to say that Julie Sandler, you can raise your hand, she was one of the first students that
worked with us on some of these projects. So it is great to have her
in the audience and so what we started thinking was that
maybe the anthropological work and the psychological work were focusing
on different aspects of emotion. In psychology, we really have primarily
focused on what we call actual affect, or how we’re actually feeling when we’re
in the throws of an emotional event. It’s like,
how you’re responding to some sort of meaningful event that
happens in your life. But we started thinking that maybe there
was another aspect of emotion that was being understudied by psychologists and
this is we call ideal affect. It’s the affect of states
that we unconsciously or consciously aspire to feel,
they’re like our emotional goals, how we want to feel,
how we ideally want to feel. So, come in. So we started thinking that
maybe these are two different aspects of emotion that are very
important in our everyday lives and maybe culture influences
one over the other. Now, some of you may be wondering
what do we mean by affect so let me just take some time to
describe what I mean by affect. So by affect we’re really,
as emotion researchers, psychologists, talking about feeling states that can be
described in terms of two dimensions. They’re the dimension of valence, so
how positive or how negative you feel. And they’re the dimension of arousal,
how highly aroused you are or low aroused you are. So high arousal states are feeling
really stimulated, energized, surprised. Versus low arousal states, which
are more like feeling passive and idle. The reason we decided to focus on
these particular feeling states, affective states, is that we know from
a lot of literature, that across cultures people organize their feeling states
in terms of these two dimensions. In other words they have similar
meaning across cultures and across different languages, and so you
can compare them across cultures, okay? So when I talk about affect,
I’m really talking about these feeling states that can be described
in terms of these two dimensions. And so basically in our studies, our
initial studies that Julie was part of, we would just ask people
of different cultures, how much do actually feel
these states on average and how much do you ideally wanna
feel these states on average? And we’re primarily interested in the
states that are in red and are in blue. So, you have states like enthusiasm and
excitement, right? They differ in very subtle ways, but
what they share is that they’re positive states, they’re highly arousing,
highly energizing. And this is in contrast to positive
states, like relaxation and calm, they’re positive but
they involve low arousal. Right? So throughout the talk I’m gonna be
referring to excited states, and I mean these high arousal positive
states I might call them hap states. And I’ll also refer to calm states,
these low arousal positive states, or these lab states. Okay, so we asked people, how much do you
actually feel these states on average, how much do you ideally wanna
feel this states on average? And what we found was that most people
wanna feel more positive than negative, which might not be surprising. But, most people also feel more positive,
sorry, they feel less positive, and more negative than they actually wanna
feel, which is kind of depressing., right? They don’t really feel
how they wanna feel. But on the other hand, it was good for
us because it showed us that how people actually feel and how they ideally
wanna feel, are two different things. And this might seem pretty obvious to you, that you don’t always feel how you
wanna feel, but in psychology, there hadn’t been really distinction
between actual and ideal affect. Again, most of the research
focused on actual affect. And again, we think that this is
important because it maybe that culture influences how we want to feel even
more than how we actually feel. So culture is something that teaches
us what’s good, moral, right, vitreous. This is what Rick Swader, cultural
psychologist, anthropologist argues. The main function of culture
is it tells us what’s good. And by definition then,
what’s bad, sinful, wrong, right? And so we just apply this idea to
emotional states that culture teaches us which emotional states are good
emotional states to feel. Now actual affect is probably
also influenced by culture. But, it’s influenced by a whole
host of other factors as well. It’s influenced by our temperaments. So, if we’re biologically
predisposed to be happier, on the happier side or
on the more sad side our actual affective states are also
influenced by our immediate circumstances. If we’ve run into a colleague we
don’t like on a particular day. Actual affect is also influenced by our
ability to regulate our emotional state. So a lot of things are influencing
actual affect, including culture, but we think culture is primarily
influencing how we ideally wanna feel. So when we’ve administered these
self report measures to members of different cultural contexts,
we find support for this prediction. We find that culture seems to
influence how people want to feel, even more than how they actually feel. So, these are data from the study
that Julie helped us with. But we’ve replicated these findings
in lots of other studies since. And here, what we find is that
European Americans, and this is individuals of Western European decent,
who’ve been in the United States for multiple generations, whose ancestors
were from west European countries. They value these excitement states more
than their Hong Kong Chinese counterparts, who are in blue. So this is why when somebody asks you
how you’re feeling, really the only right answer is I’m feeling great and
I’m having a lot of fun, right.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s the reason why you should feel passionate about what you do,
when you were finding a major you had to find a subject
that you felt passionate about. It’s why you should feel
passionate about who you love. So you can see instances of this emphasis on these excitement states
in American culture. And I’m gonna show you some
examples in just a few minutes. So in contrast, Hong Kong Chinese in blue, value the calm states more than
European Americans in red. They value the calm,
peaceful serene states. And you can see that Chinese Americans
who are in green, value both states. We selected Chinese Americans who reported
being oriented equally to Chinese and American cultures. And so, Chinese Americans are valuing
the excitement states as much as their European American peers and
more than Hong Kong Chinese. But they’re valuing the calm
states more than their European, American peers and in some cases more
than their Hong Kong, Chinese peers. And we can talk a little bit about why
that might be the case in Q and A. By the way, I should say I can talk,
and talk, and talk but I would really welcome any questions
that you have during the talk. So if you have any questions,
please raise your hand, it’s much more fun if we’re
engaging in a dialogue. Okay, so what’s interesting about this, in
addition to the cultural differences and ideal affect is that these differences occur against a backdrop of almost
no differences in actual affect. So, people don’t report actually feeling
different levels of excitement or calm states. It’s really how much they wanna feel
these states that varies across cultures. And again, we’ve replicated these
findings in a lot of different studies.>>Can I ask you a question?>>Yes, please.>>Does this suggest that
European Americans value LAP than HAP?>>So, really good question. The question was do European Americans
value LAP more than HAP? They value HAP and LAP the same. So, if you’re looking at within each
culture, you know, how much they value each state, you’ll notice that
the European Americans are valuing both. And it’s really the Chinese, the Hong
Kong Chinese and the Chinese Americans who are really valuing those calm
states more than excitement. So, the difference I really
want you to focus on is the relative emphasis that Americans place
on excitement states compared to Chinese. And sometimes we find this,
there’s no difference for this sample of European Americans in terms of
how much they value excitement and calm. Sometimes we find European Americans value
excitement states more than calm states. Sometimes they value calm states more. One thing that’s kind of interesting
is after 9/11 that was when we started finding that the European Americans
valued the calm things states more than the excitement states. This is now maybe more
information than you wanna know. When we give people a forced choice
they have to choose between excited and calm faces for example and
tell us which one they prefer, European Americans always
choose the excited face more. So, it’s not that they’re
equally choosing the two. So this has made us wonder,
you know in these questions we’re just asking how much do you value these states,
but we’re not really asking people why. In some studies where we say,
what is you ideal state? Which I’ll show you in a second. When people provided longer responses, it seems like they say that,
the European Americans, say that they value the calm states in
order to get to the excited states. So for example, one participant
said I want to sleep all day so I can party all night long. [LAUGH] And so there is some, sort of
what is the function of the calm state? Is it ultimately getting
you to the excited state? Whereas the Hong Kong Chinese
you will see, they really like the calm states in and
of themselves, so yes.>>There’s a lot of yoga and
other kinds of Eastern influence, things going on in the Western culture that’s basically trying to
teach people to go the other way.>>Right.
>>So, how does that make->>Yeah, really good question. See, you guys are just like, so smart. I just love presenting this stuff to you. [LAUGH]
>>So, if Americans value excitement so much, why is there this
fascination with yoga? And so
there’s lots of things to say about that. So, I have some data to support this and
some of this is speculation, but In the search for excitement, Americans
engage in lots of different activities. When we ask people,
what’s your ideal vacation? European Americans are just more likely to
list many, many things they want to do. They want to visit this city and that
city and do this thing and that thing. And I think it is,
as a way trying to get to that excitement. But when you’re doing that many activities
it also creates a lot of stress. So, you’re able to get to
this high arousal state, but it’s not necessarily positive. A lot of times it’s negative. And I think part of the fascination
with yoga is it gets you that calm to counteract the stress
that you feel in your search for excitement, that’s one response. Another response is, if any of you guys
have done yoga, I used to do yoga for a long time, you know that there are
different forms of yoga in a yoga studio, and many forms of yoga are not calm. You know, some of them are really aerobics
classes, right, under the guise of yoga. So there’s power yoga, and there’s these
different American forms of yoga that I think really bring in that excitement. So, I think it is a really
interesting question. There is lots of individual differences
within a culture obviously, so there are some people who are really
seeking calm for calm’s sake. But I also think that part of
the fascination with yoga is to counteract actually the effects, the negative
effects of trying to seek excitement. Yes?>>I’m wondering about age
>>As a variable too, I’m thinking of young people who
are very externally oriented, and wanting the excitement of social media.>>Right. Right, so what about age? So, a lot of these studies
are primarily on college students. We have done some studies
on community samples. In one particular study, we looked at
individuals between the ages of 18 and 80. And we did this because a lot
of people predicted well as you get older Certainly you don’t
value excitement states as much right? The study that we did was
not a longitudinal study. It was a cross sectional study. So we had to compare 80 year
olds with 20 year olds. But what we found was that with
European American 80 years olds. Healthy, healthy 80 year
Value excitement just as much as the younger European Americans. And I don’t have it in this talk,
but it’s not that surprising. Because if you look at different
advertisements about healthy aging, healthy aging in the United States
is basically to not be old. It’s to be young, and
there’s all this excitement. So one of the, one of the advertisements
is for Kellogg’s products, like corn flakes. But it says the way to stay active, and then its got two individuals in their 70s,
running on the beach. Is to buy all these exciting products. So you being American older adults value
excitement states as much as the younger counter parts. Chinese counter parts on the other hand. Chinese-American older adults
don’t value excitement states as much as their younger counterparts. So, the effects of age on ideal
ethics seems to vary as a function of culture, too. Yes.>>You’re saying this is empirical
data from college age students.>>Right.
>>Does that match up against any cultural norms that historically
have been presented as European American
culture individualism?>>Oh great question, and hold on and
I’ll answer that in a second, okay I’m just gonna now tell you not to
ask questions for just a few minutes. [LAUGH]
>>[LAUGH] Because you’re all asking great questions and
let me get through a few more slides and then you can ask questions. And so, when we ask people on an open
ended way, rhat is your ideal state? So we don’t give them our measure, we just
ask them to tell us with their own words, we find the same differences. So this is a prototypical European
American college student who says, I just wanna be happy. Normally for me, that means I
would be doing something exciting. I just wanna be entertained. I just like excitement. And this is in contrast to a Hong Kong
Chinese college student who says, my ideal state is to be quiet,
serene, happy, and positive. So they’re both talking about happiness,
right? You can see that in both
of their responses, but they’re associating different
states with happiness. And again when we compare the emotional
states that European Americans and Hong Kong Chinese mention in
their open ended responses, we find the differences that
we’ve been talking about. Okay, so the question then is, well,
If this is really cultural, we should be able to identify in which people
learn to want to feel these states, right? And we think of culture as being
the environments that people are exposed to and engaging with. So we wanted to see whether or
not we could identify some ways in which people learned
to want to feel a certain way. Now, where do we learn
about what to value? The media. So first we decided to look at the best
selling children’s story books.>>[LAUGH]
>>In the United States and in Taiwan, this was in 2005, and
we coded the expressions of the characters, animal or human,
in these best selling story books. We coded lots of emotional content, I’m just gonna tell you about
a few things that we looked at. So we looked at the width of
the smile controlling for the total size of the face and we looked
at whether it was an excited smile. So this is an open smile, we think of
it as a toothy Julia Robert’s smile.>>[LAUGH]
>>That’s an excited smile. And we found that the American
best selling children story books, like, Where the Wild Things Are,
had more excited and fewer calm smiles than the best selling
children story book’s in Taiwan. So here you can see this is
the big excitement smile and this is the calm smile. So calm smile’s a closed smile, we think
of it as like the Buddha Dali Lama smile. So American best selling story
books has more excitement and fewer calm than the best
selling Taiwanese story books. The characters were also
engaged in much more physiologically arousing
kinds of activities. Their jumping and running and roaring. And walking less and lying down less than the characters in
the best selling Taiwanese story books. We’ve also looked at
the facial expressions in best selling women’s magazines in
the United States and in China. And again, you see more excited smiles and
fewer calm smiles in the American women’s magazines compared
to the Chinese women’s magazines. We even have looked at the Facebook photos
of American college students versus Chinese college students, and
again we see that the American photos have more of these excited expressions,
and they’re engaged in more exciting activities than in
the Hong Kong Chinese Facebook profiles. Recently, we’ve even looked
at the official photos of the leading figures in government and in other domains,
in the United States and in China. And we find that government officials
in the United States have more of these excited smiles than Chinese officials. Again, this is not just
specific to government. It’s true in business as well. So American CEOs have more of these
excited smiles than the Chinese CEOs and we’ve just also looked at
university presidents. [LAUGH] And you can see that
John Hennessey has got this excited smile compared to one of
his counterparts in China. In fact in a study,
now these studies are just comparing the occurrence of these
excited and these calm smiles. But how do we know that they’re
really associated with ideal affect? So in another study, we sampled
the ideal affect of college students in ten different nations, representing a
variety of East Asian and Western context. And then we coded the facial expressions
in the official photos of legislators in each one of those countries. And what we found was that the more
that the country valued excitement, so this is on the X-axis,
the more likely the legislators were to show excited smiles in
their official photos. And this was true when we looked at calm,
the more the nation valued calm, the more likely the legislators
were to show calm in their photos. And what’s interesting is that,
the measures of ideal affect were obtained eight years before the photos
were coded of the legislators. So what we think we’re doing is
measuring ideal affect in the culture, and using it to predict what we see in
the official’s photos eight years later. And actual affect, how much the college
students actually felt these states didn’t predict the expressions in
the legislators’ official photos. Moreover, when we looked at other
national indicators, like how wealthy the nation was, how democratic the nation
was, how developed the nation was, none of those predicted the occurrence
of excited and calm smiles. It was really how much the culture
valued specific states. Yes?>>A friend of mine who’s a dentist
one time told me that you can tell the level of development in
a country based upon people’s teeth.>>That’s interesting.>>This is modern day,
if you were to look back 100 years>>What kind of expressions do you see in the Western Europeans? Because when I see pictures,
well there wasn’t pictures then. But when I see drawings and some of those early sketches in things,
they’re always calm.>>It’s really interesting to think about
within a culture historical changes. And with this, I can tell you. We think that the causes of these
cultural differences go way back but we haven’t really done any analysis of for
example, photos on the 1920s or 1950s. But what’s interesting is that When we
do measure how developed the nation is, it’s not accounting for these differences. How developed a nation is does account for
whether or not a legislator is smiling, but it doesn’t predict the type of
smile that the person is showing, yeah. That’s a really nice question. Yes.
>>Can you say a bit how you controlled for the frequency or expanse of this
>>Yes, so we asked people how much do you
actually feel these states on average or over the course of a typical week,
and then we asked how much do ideally wanna feel these states
over the course of a typical week. And in these analysis, we control for
how much they’re actually feeling these statesand we find these
relationships when we control for that. So it’s not due to how much people
are actually feeling the states. No, not with actual fact,
not with actual ethic, not in this particular study,
which is interesting, yeah. Yes?
So I’m Chinese American. I was born here, but
my parents are very traditional Chinese. And I remember being told by them that people who smile too
much were probably crazy. Well you know, [LAUGHTER] yeah,
you’re not alone in that actually. I’ve had students from many different
cultures come into the lab, to either to study as graduate students or
as undergraduates. And one of my first students
is Yuli Etchizen and she’s now a professor at
Georgetown University and she’s Russian. And she said that whenever she went back
to Russia, people would always know first that she came from the United States,
because she had that big, broad smile. And they would always tell her, her family
members would say, stop smiling so much. You look like an idiot. [LAUGH]
>>[LAUGH]>>So, I think the idea, and which she said more, is it’s almost to suggest that you don’t
understand that life is suffering. If you understood that,
why would you have that big broad smile? Right?
So culture matters. Okay.
So one of the questions was why, why are there are these
differences in ideal ethic?>>Why is it the case that the American
culture seems to value these excitement states more and the calm states
less than many Chinese context. And so we think that this does have to
do with individuals and collectivism. Or the idea that there’s certain cultures,
we know from a lot of previous research. That really privilege the individual. And individual cultures
are supposed to put your own needs over those of the group. And compared to more collectivistic
context, where you’re supposed to put the needs of your in group
over your own personal needs. And there’s been some research by Hazel
Marcus in our department and other people, that have shown that in
an individualistic context, one of the goals is really
to influence other people. So that means that you take your desires
and your preferences and you try to change your environment so it is consistent
with your preferences and your desires. So if you buy a new house and you do not
like the way it looks, you renovate it. Right?
Or if you disagree with a friend about something you try to persuade them why
you are right, and they are wrong. [LAUGH] And
this is in contrast to many collectivistic contexts where the emphasis is
more on adjusting to others. So, you’re supposed to suppress more
your internal preferences, needs and desires in order to fit in
with those of the group. And what we argue is that in more
Individualistic context where the emphasis on influence, there is more of a value
placed on action and doing, right? Because you’re trying to change your environment to be consistent
with your preferences. Or your beliefs, and so
you have to do something about it and it actually requires an increase
in physiological arousal. So if you want influence then you want to
feel these high arousal positive states. This is in contrast to collectivistic
context where if the emphasis is on adjustment, that you need to
at least initially suspend action. You need to figure out,
what people expect of you, or what is required of you before you act. And so suspension of action requires
a decrease in physiological arousal. So if you value adjustment,
you should value these calm states. And so we’ve done a series of studies in
the lab both using surveys as well as experiments to test this hypothesis. And I’m just gonna tell you quickly,
about one of them, where we basically had undergraduates come into the lab,
our lab here, as well as in Hong Kong. And, we told them that they were gonna
be engaged in a task with a partner who hadn’t arrived yet. And we said that they were gonna
be working on building an object. Now if they were in the influence
condition they were told that their job would be to build and object and then they were going to have to tell
their partner how to build that object. But their partner wasn’t going
to be able to see the object. So basically they were going to have to
really articulate what they had done and get their partner to
build the same object. They had to influence their partner. In the adjustment condition, participants were told that they
were gonna wait for their partner. Their partner was gonna make an object. They were gonna have to
really listen carefully to the instructions that their partner
gave them, so that they could really build an object that was what like
what their partner had built. So they had to really
adjust to their partner. And then we told them that their
partner hadn’t arrived yet, so they could listen to some music
to help them prepare for the task. And so
we gave them a choice between two CDs. One CD was called Soundsplash, and it had
these fabricated reviews that said lively, stimulating, and exhilarating music
[LAUGH] versus Windchants’ tranquil, soothing, and peaceful music. And so we just gave them a choice,
which cd to do you want to listen to? And we found that across cultures, those
participants who were in the influence condition, who were told they were gonna
have to influence basically their partner, were more likely to choose
the CD with the exciting music than the participants who were
in the adjustment condition. And this held across cultures, but we also
found that European Americans were just more likely to choose that exciting
CD compared to their Hong Kong, Chinese counterparts and
Asian Americans were right in the middle. So we think that the reason Americans
value excitement states more than Hong Kong, Chinese, Taiwanese, [INAUDIBLE]
is because they wanna influence more and adjust less than their
Chinese counterparts. Okay. So now, you might be wondering,
well, why does this matter? Other than understanding how
culture influences emotion. Why should we really care? And so the last part of our model
argues that how we wanna feel actually predicts a lot of things that
we do in our every day lives. Consciously and unconsciously, we do things to achieve
the state that we wanna feel. And so that, for example,
when you’re feeling bad, you might do something to feel better. But, what you specifically
do to feel better, might be a reflection of how you wanna
feel, more than how you actually feel. And so for
the rest of the talk I’m gonna tell you about different ways in
which ideal affect matters. The first one is in how
you define happiness. We talked about this earlier. So I show this advertisement, it’s for Propel water and
it says fit has a feeling. And for those of you who can’t see it,
then there’s a whole bunch of these ID cards that have these big
excitement smiles on it, right. And so the idea here is that we associate
particular emotions with health, both mental and physical health. And so what we’ve predicted is that how
a culture wants, teaches its members to feel, will influence how its members think
of happiness, health, and wellbeing, and similarly, how the culture
defines distress and depression, okay? So in one study,
we basically asked participants to define the emotions, to identify the emotions
that were central to feeling good. In other studies we said,
that are central feeling happy. In other studies,
that are central to feeling well. So it doesn’t really matter
how we ask the question. And then we gave people a choice
between a number of different emotions. They’re obviously not
presented in this way. They’re presented in random order. And we had them choose the emotions
that they associated with feeling well, feeling good, happiness. And what we found is that
European Americans and Asian Americans, in the red and the green,
choose more of these excited states compared to their Hong Kong,
Chinese counterparts. And the Hong Kong,
Chinese choose the calm states more than their European American and
Asian American counterparts, okay? So you might say, well,
that’s already what you showed us. So then we asked participants, well now
what are the states that you associate with feeling depressed,
feeling emotionally distressed? And what we predicted was the in
cultures that value excitement states, they should define depression more in
terms of the absence of excitement, right? So feeling dull, sleepy, and sluggish,
what we call these low arousal negative states, and that in cultures that really
value calm states they should define distress in terms of the opposite
of these calm states. These high-arousal negative states like
feeling anxious and fearful and nervous. And so, this is what we found,
that the European Americans and Asian Americans were more likely to talk
about depression, emotional distress, feeling bad in terms of these
low-arousal negative states, the opposite of the excitement states,
compared to Hong Kong Chinese. And Hong Kong Chinese were more likely
to talk about feeling bad, feeling distressed, and feeling depressed in terms
of these higher arousal negative states. So ideal affect is influencing not only
how we conceive of health, mental health, but how we conceive of mental illness. Now again, you might say, well okay, but how does it play itself out
in mental health contexts? So we were then interested in looking
at the ways in which psychologists, researchers and clinicians,
assess well being and assess depression in clinical settings. So we took the most popular inventories
that have been used in both research and clinical settings to assess well being and
depression, and then we coded each item or sentence in each one of these
inventories for their emotional content. And this is just an example of
the measures if you’re in the field. But basically what we found was
that these well-being measures really sample a lot of excitement,
that’s how they define well-being, and they have very few items
that sample calm states. And that when you look at
depression measures, again, to the degree that they refer to positive
states, those depression inventories are sampling excitement states more and
calm states less. And moreover, they’re really
sampling more of these dull states, the opposite of these excitement
states more than these, high arousal negative states
opposite of the calm states. So that means that even the inventories
that we are using to assess happiness and depression in researching clinical context
are a product of our cultural ideals. And that’s not really a problem
if you’re primarily studying and treated European American participants or
American participants, but it’s a problem when these inventories
are being used to study happiness and depression in other cultural contexts,
which they are. They’re often translated and just used
to assess well being and happiness and depression in other settings, and so the problem is that they’re really not
including some states that are really essential to other people’s emotional
lives who don’t value calm states. Okay, they don’t value excitement states,
sorry, and value calm states more. Okay, so
how else does ideal affect matter? Well, we’ve done a number of studies
that shows that ideal affect even predicts a number of things, not just
how you define happiness and depression, but also predicts what you do in
your daily lives to feel good. So we’ve looked at a number of behaviors. We find that when we present people
with exciting and calm music, the more you value excitement, the more
likely you choose the excited music. We find that people who value excitement
even when you put them on a treadmill, they run faster on a treadmill [LAUGH]
than people who value calm states more. In other studies, we’ve presented people
with common exciting consumer products. So you can have, like, this sort of
soothing versus revitalizing gum. Calming versus lively Suave lotion,
or it works for shampoo. Relaxing or energizing waters. And then these are those CDs
that I showed you earlier. And European Americans are more
likely to choose the exciting products than their Chinese counterparts. And within cultures, the more that
people value excitement states, the more likely they are to
choose these exciting products. So even at your everyday
choices at the grocery store, your ideal affect is
influencing what you do. I don’t have time to go over this. And in another recently published study,
one of my former graduate students, Tamara Sims, was interested in whether
ideal affect influences more serious decisions like who you choose to
be your primary care provider. So she had participants, college
students as well as community adults imagine that their primary care
provider was no longer available and that they had to choose a new one. And then she presented them
with two descriptions. Dr. H, who,
these doctors were similar in terms of their medical training and
their expertise but they varied in terms of their views of
patient care and their outside interests. So Doctor H says that his goal as
a physician is to enhance well being by increasing patient’s activity levels and
overall vitality so that they can lead dynamic lifestyles
as a high arousal positive physician. Their outside interests include
helping youths discover a passion for educational goals. Then they were also read a description
of a physician who is again similar in terms of training but wants to have
his patients have a piece of mind and he wants to promote a calm and
relaxed lifestyle, and of course has outside
interests that are more calming. And then they could also chose, they read
a description of a more neutral physician who just wanted to keep
their patients healthy. And we found that the more individuals
valued excitement, the more likely they were to choose that excited over
the calm and neutral physicians, and how much they actually felt calm or
excitement didn’t predict their choice. In another study,
she wanted to see whether or not it even predicted people’s adherence
to physician’s recommendations. So she recruited participants to be involved in a study that was
testing a virtual health center. And they basically
received recommendations. They were all very healthy participants,
and they received recommendations from either
more exciting or more calm physician. And then she followed the participants
up every day for a week, and she found that when participants valued excitements
states and were given recommendations by an excited physician, they were more
likely to adhere to those recommendations. There were things like,
don’t eat two hours before you go to bed, make sure to take a 30 minute brisk walk,
and that the participants who valued
calm states were more likely to adhere to those recommendations if
they were given by a calm physician. So ideal affect predicts consumer products as well as
more significant decisions, like who you want to provide care to you,
and who you’re gonna listen to. Okay, let’s see. In the last few minutes,
I’m gonna tell you, are there any questions before
I tell you about this last? Yes.>>Do any of these studies
address the Middle Eastern?>>No, we would let, in psychology,
most of the research in psychology is primarily focused on European Americans,
and then from the 1990s there was more of an interest in culture, and so
a lot of it was focused on East Asians. There’s a lot of work
on African Americans. But Middle Eastern, Latino,
context, African context, there’s still a lot of
work that we need to do.>>What were you talking
about cultural and Europe, at least in the old days,
the Americans were always known for smiling too much and being loud and
all that kind of stuff. I think it’s unfair to
the over there [INAUDIBLE].>>Yeah, so the comment was that
the European perspective of Americans is that they’re too loud and
maybe too extroverted and too talkative.>>So we have done some studies comparing
European Americans with Germans, and instead of focus. This is some work by who know
teaches at Santa Clara University. When she came to the United States,
she felt like people would ask her how she was and she would say [SOUND] just
horrible because I can’t find anything and I can’t really speak the language. And She just noticed quickly that
people didn’t want to talk to her.>>[LAUGH]
>>And she thought that that had something
to do with the emotion, right, and she very quickly said, everything’s great,
and then people would hang out with her.>>[LAUGH]
>>And so she actually, for her dissertation, did
a series of really nice studies looking at whether there are cultural differences
between European Americans and Germans and
how they view negative emotion. And what she found is that European
Americans want to avoid negative emotion much more than Germans. And this actually has consequences for
how people express sympathy or how they respond to
the suffering of other people. So, what she was thinking is that when she
herself would say all these bad things happened, everybody would say to her,
well don’t worry, things will get better. And she felt like that was so superficial. She was going through a hard time, and
they weren’t really listening to her. And, so, she thought that if
you looked at, for example, American-German sympathy cards
you might see this difference. So, she coded all these representatives
sympathy cards in the United States, and Germany. And the prototypical American
sympathy card says something like, may you remember the laughter,
and the good memories. Aand it’s really colorful,
and has pictures of flowers. But the typical German
card is in black and white and
it’s like withering dying flowers.>>[LAUGH]
>>And it just says something
like in deep sadness.>>[LAUGH]
>>And so she asked the European Americans and
Germans, imagine that an acquaintance of yours just lost a loved one, which card,
kind of card would you prefer to send. She created her own cards, so
they were matched in all different ways. And she found that Americans were more
likely to choose the card that had more positive words and that had more
positive images than the Germans did. And that they actually prefer to
receive those cards as well and that those differences were due
to cultural differences and how much people wanted to
avoid negative emotion. So, it’s not really talking
about how talkative they are, but there are obviously differences
between Europeans and European-Americans. And we think it has a lot to do with
the kinds of cultures that are created by people who immigrate and
that have voluntary settlement. Yes?
>>It’s a few generations in the past, but it’s like my dad had kinda
like a German influence. And you don’t say I love you,
you don’t do any of that. Of course you don’t have to, cuz you know.>>Right.
>>Like with my wife. They’re always on the phone. I love you, I love you.>>[LAUGH]
>>It almost cheapens it.>>Yeah. [INAUDIBLE]
>>Well, so how does this reflect, manifest itself
in expressions of positive emotion? And I think your case is not a unique
case in the sense that, a lot of times, when people come from different
cultures or you have, for example, Asian Americans who are born
in the United States, but their parents were born
in an East Asian context. You can see a lot of conflict or
at least misunderstanding. Because people have different
positive emotional ideals. Yes?>>Did a study on ideal
affect [INAUDIBLE].>>No, but I think that that, so how does
ideal affect predict mate selection? No, but I’m gonna now, thank you for that cuz that perfectly segues to
just the last few slides I have. So we have been interested in
how ideal affect influences Influences our perceptions
of other people. And what we predict is that when somebody
is showing the emotion that you value, you like them more,
that you just rate them more positively. You’re not conscious of it all, right. When you meet somebody for the first time,
you just have a sense of, like, their friendly, or
you just make these very quick judgments. You may be right, you may be wrong,
but you make these judgements. You have a strong feeling,
like I like them, they were warm. And the questions is like where that
comes from and a lot of times you just think well it’s about the person, I
can just tell their a friendly person, or their a warm person, or I don’t like that
person there’s something weird about them. What you don’t think is that it
might really reflect your culture. Right? And so,
we’ve done some studies where we’ve shown participants pictures of
targets that have excited or calm smiles and they vary in terms
of their ethnicity and their gender. And we ask them to rate them
along a number of dimensions, like how friendly they are,
how warm they are. How trustworthy they are. And we find that European-Americans
rate excited faces more and calm faces less positively
than Hong Kong Chinese. I’m showing you computer generated faces,
which it applies for computer generated faces too, which
control for other features of the face. But we’ve other studies that are with
real faces, human faces, and we find these differences. And in fact when we asked people,
we showed people an excited or a calm face and we ask them to choose
which face that they want to see again, we find that the European Americans
are more likely to choose the excited face that they wanna see again compared
to the Hong Kong Chinese. It doesn’t matter what
the ethnicity of the target is. It doesn’t matter what
the gender of the target is. So, you might think that European
Americans are more likely to choose white faces Hong Kong Chinese are more
likely to choose Asian faces but that’s not the case. The European Americans are more likely
to choose the excited faces and the Hong Kong Chinese are more
likely to choose the calm faces. Okay, so maybe this has something
to do with mate selection, right. You’re choosing somebody who reflects
how you wanna feel, how you wanna be. And so we’ve done studies that show
that ideal affect predicts this and that actual affect doesn’t. Okay.
So, we’re doing now some studies that are trying to look at what
are the underlying mechanisms? And so, this is in collaboration with
Brian Knutson, who’s my husband, who’s also a faculty member
in the Psychology Department. And he’s really
the neuroscientist on this. But we’re using neuroimaging
to see what happens when you see a face that
matches your ideal affect? It could be that you just
attend to that face more. And that would suggest that there
would be greater recruitment of these face processing areas of the brain. It could be that you just identify with
that face more when you see it, or it could be that you just find
that face more rewarding. And without going into the details,
you can ask me questions later, we basically find that it’s the reward
mechanism that seems to really matter. So, it’s not the case that people are just
visually processing faces that match their ideal affect more. They’re actually processing them the same. But what European Americans are doing,
they find excited faces more and the calm faces less rewarding that
their Chinese counterparts do. And they also find them as more relevant. So the part of the brain that is
associated with identity Is also active. So here, Chinese show greater
activation in the brain areas associated with self and identity when
they’re viewing Asian calm faces. So, I know that’s a lot and if you have questions I can
tell you more about them later. But the point is, that you can really
see that culture is influencing even our neural responses to faces that match or
mismatch our ideal affect. Okay, and we think that this
actually might have implications for how we judge people of cultures
that are different than our own. And so, in a lot of different domains,
one thing that people talk about is the bamboo ceiling, that Asian-Americans
can make it to middle-level positions, but they don’t make it to
the top-level positions. There aren’t as many CEOs or
university presidents. And often times it’s because people say
that Asian Americans just don’t have what it takes to lead. And the hypothesis that
we’re testing is that kind of abstract what it takes to lead
is really about an emotional fit. And because so many Asian American value
calm states, that maybe they’re showing the state that they value but that’s being
processed by their European American employers as not having what it takes or
as not being as likeable. Anyways, so we think that our work has
some implications for the bamboo ceiling and other kinds of disparities in
different domains in American society. Okay, so in summary, how we wanna feel
differs from how we actually feel. Cultural factors seem to shape how we
wanna feel more than how we actually feel. American contexts value these
excitement states more than and these calm states less than
many East Asian contexts. People learn to value theses states
through exposure to different forms of media. So I didn’t tell you
that we have some studies where we actually expose people to these
different excited verses calm images. And we see that at least temporarily
it changes their affective preferences. And we think ideal affect is important
because it predicts various aspects of everyday life at the cultural and
at the individual level, including how we define happiness,
what we do, what we choose to do, how we perceive
others and even who we like. So, I’m gonna just end by
thanking our collaborators and our funding agencies, and thanking
the current members of the Culture and Emotion Lab, and thank you for
coming and thank you for your attention.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>For more, please visit us at

  1. She touches essential points, which is helpful in gaining a better understanding of the effect of emotions on behaviour in society.

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