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[xmca] The Role of Affect in the Expression of Culture

Dear xmca-ers,

Identity is one of the recurring topics on the list serve (and in my
work) and I thought this might be of interest. What I found particularly
interesting is the relationship between affect and apparent willingness
to try things outside of one's 'cultural identity'. As an educator, it
doesn't surprise me...positive affect and openness generally equals an
opportunity to learn... on the other hand, I wonder about the
'legitimacy' of the work with regard to culture.  Thoughts?



[I've included the abstract and the ScienceDaily  announcement.] 

Research Article

Who I Am Depends on How I Feel: The Role of Affect in the Expression of

Claire E. Ashton-James 1 , William W. Maddux 2 , Adam D. Galinsky 3 ,
and Tanya L. Chartrand 4 

  1 University of British Columbia,   2 INSEAD,   3 Northwestern
University, and   4 Duke University 

 Address correspondence to Claire E. Ashton-James, University of British
Columbia, School of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, British
Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4, e-mail: cajames@psych.ubc.ca
<mailto:cajames@psych.ubc.ca> . 

ABSTRACT-We present a novel role of affect in the expression of culture.
Four experiments tested whether individuals' affective states moderate
the expression of culturally normative cognitions and behaviors. We
consistently found that value expressions, self-construals, and
behaviors were less consistent with cultural norms when individuals were
experiencing positive rather than negative affect. Positive affect
allowed individuals to explore novel thoughts and behaviors that
departed from cultural constraints, whereas negative affect bound people
to cultural norms. As a result, when Westerners experienced positive
rather than negative affect, they valued self-expression less, showed a
greater preference for objects that reflected conformity, viewed the
self in more interdependent terms, and sat closer to other people. East
Asians showed the reverse pattern for each of these measures, valuing
and expressing individuality and independence more when experiencing
positive than when experiencing negative affect. The results suggest
that affect serves an important functional purpose of attuning
individuals more or less closely to their cultural heritage.

How We Feel Linked To Both Our Culture And How We Behave

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2009) - Scientists have long been interested in
the interplay of emotions and identity, and some have recently focused
on cultural identity. One's heritage would seem to be especially stable
and impervious to change, simply because it's been passed down
generation after generation and is deeply ingrained in the collective
psyche. But how deeply, exactly?

Psychologists Claire Ashton-James of the University of British Columbia,
William W. Maddux from INSEAD, Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University,
and Tanya Chartrand from Duke University decided to explore this
intriguing question in the laboratory, to see if even something as
potent as culture might be tied to normal mood swings. European cultures
are known to value independence and individuality, whereas Asian
cultures prize community and harmony. This fundamental East-West
cultural difference is well established, and so offered the researchers
an ideal test.

The volunteers consisted of students hailing from a number of different
countries and the researchers unconsciously raised or lowered their
moods via two different methods. In one study, the volunteers listened
to some upbeat Mozart on the stereo to lift their moods, or some
Rachmaninov to bring them down. In another study, the volunteers held
pens in their mouths: Some held the pen with their teeth, which
basically forces the face into a smile, which improves mood. Others held
the pen with their lips, forcing a frown. Then the volunteers completed
a variety of tests, each designed to measure the strength of their
values. In one test, the volunteers were offered a choice of five pens,
four blue and one red. In keeping with cultural values, Asians typically
pick from the more common blue pens in this test - to be part of the
group - while Westerners usually take the one red pen. In another test,
the volunteers thought about the questions "Who am I?" and listed 20
answers. The lists were analyzed to see if they reflected predominantly
individualistic or predominantly group values.

The results, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the
Association for Psychological Science, were consistent for all of the
tests: Feeling good did indeed encourage the volunteers - both European
and Asian - to explore values that are inconsistent with their cultural
norms. And elevated mood even shaped behavior, allowing volunteers to
act "out of character." These findings suggest that people in an upbeat
mood are more exploratory and daring in attitude - and therefore more
apt to break from cultural stereotype. That is, Asians act more
independently than usual, and Europeans are more cooperative. Feeling
bad did the opposite: It reinforced traditional cultural stereotypes and
constrained both Western and Eastern thinking about the world.

The researchers note these results suggest that emotions may serve an
important social purpose. They surmise that positive feelings may send a
signal that it's safe to broaden one's view of the world - and to
explore novel notions of one's self. The researchers go on to indicate
that negative feelings may do the opposite: They may send a signal that
it's time to circle the wagons and stick with the "tried and true." They
conclude that the findings also suggest that the "self" may not be as
robust and static as we like to believe and that the self may be
dynamic, constructed again and again from one's situation, heritage and


Journal reference:

1.       Ashton-James et al. Who I Am Depends on How I Feel: The Role of
Affect in the Expression of Culture. Psychological Science, 2009; 20
(3): 340 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02299.x

Adapted from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science
<http://www.psychologicalscience.org> , via EurekAlert!
<http://www.eurekalert.org> , a service of AAAS




Emily Duvall, PhD

Assistant Professor Curriculum & Instruction
University of Idaho, Coeur d'Alene
1000 W. Hubbard Suite 242 | Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814 
T 208 292 2512 | F 208 667 5275 emily@uidaho.edu
<mailto:barbm@uidaho.edu>  | www.cda.uidaho.edu


He only earns his freedom and his life, who takes them every day by
-- Johann Wolfgang Goethe 


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