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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

facing up to emotion

Some interesting news on the BBC at the end of last week, which i think lends credence towards theories of emotions being rooted in culture and group dynamics as well as an internal physiological reaction.

A study by Glasgow University suggests that facial expressions of emotion are not global - whilst we may all feel emotions like fear or surprise, we express them in different ways. The study emphasises the difference in interpretations by Western case studies and East Asian ones. Essentially both look for different things in an expression, with East Asians apparently focusing more on the eyes and Westerns more on the the whole face in order to read a reaction from someone.

If something as apparently innate as a supposedly involuntary facial reaction can be different across cultures, what then does it say for the other ways we display and act upon our emotions? I am not saying at the drop of a hat we can all change our emotional responses, but if an involuntary response turns out not to be global and innate, it is subject to change and framing by a culture. And if a culture moves to frame an emotional response in a different way, it shows how we can move to change our responses in ways which might be more beneficial to our culture.

In the littlest differences, glimmers of hope for improving our emotional lives can be shown as they offer the possibility of cultures learning new behaviours that improve all our well being.

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