- Culture and Ethnicity
- Emotion, Mood, Affect
- Intergroup Relations
- Interpersonal Processes
- Motivation, Goal Setting
- Self and Identity
When I started my Ph.D. research on culture and emotion, psychology had reached its conclusion on the topic. There was general consensus about 6+ basic emotion characterized by universal facial expressions, hard-wired, and with a unique phenomenology. Even now this is what most of my students think when they come into my courses.
What puzzled me at the time was that anthropologists came to a radically different conclusion, that emotions were to be understood from the social context in which they occurred, that they reflected culture-specific customs and ideals of social relationships, and embodied cultural principles of morality. I set out to reconcile these two perspectives on the relationship between emotion and culture.
I identified two sources of bias towards universality findings in psychology. First, whereas psychology was guided by an assumption of universality, ethnographic studies were not. Thus, psychological research was not designed to find cultural differences, and for that reason alone, failed to examine the phenomena that should be expected to vary across cultures. Second, and in a related vein, most psychological studies focused on ‘ability’, rather than ‘practice’, whereas emotions described in the anthropological literature mostly concerned practices –i.e., the prevalent patterns of emotion. One of the goals of my own research has been to theoretically predict cultural differences as well as design studies capable of capturing these cultural differences.
The sociocultural theory of emotion that we developed challenges the traditional view that emotions are innate programs that are invariant and universal. Our theory does not deny the body a role in emotion experience, but rather it assumes that our neurological and physiological dispositions are insufficient explanations for why we feel what we feel. By exploring the ways in which emotions are social and relational phenomena, my collaborators and I have established the existence of significant and systematic differences in emotional experience across cultures. The heterogeneity in emotional experience has led me to suggest that the process rather than the content of emotional experience may be universal. I propose a dynamic interchange between the processes that go on inside the person, and those that exist outside it. Emotional experience, in this view, is always interdependent with its sociocultural context, and cannot be separated from this context without losing its character. This means that the sociocultural context, rather than spoiling or distracting from a basic theory of emotions, is an important constituent of emotional experience. Culture is not just overlay, but it is an active ingredient in shaping or fabricating the experience. Therefore, in order to understand emotions, even within the European and North American context, their cultural context should be considered and understood.
One important question in my lab is that of emotional acculturation: To what extent and under what circumstances do the emotions of immigrants change when they are exposed to a new culture? We have found that immigrants who engage in relationships with members of the host cultures do take on the host culture's patterns of emotional experience. Moreover, similarity in emotional experience is associated to larger well-being in contexts where the dominant culture prevails. However, host culture patterns of emotions may conflict with well-being in family, where the emotions of the culture of origin may be more important. This newer line of research also shows frame-switching of emotions in bi-culturals: Depending on the situation, biculturals report and express different emotions.
Another line of research that I started when I moved back to Europe focuses on the collective representations ofdiversity in Western European countries. The common thread is an interest in how socio-cultural environments shape individual psychological tendencies: We have found evidence that collective representations influence the stereotypes held by majority members, and play a role in interactions with minority members.
I am a Fellow of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, I Fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and a Fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Science.
I am currenty a Senior Editor of Psychological Science and an Associate Editor for Emotion Review.
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|Photo of Batja Mesquita
Department of Psychology
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Work: (32) 16-325-868
Mobile: (32) 473-197-698
Fax: (32) 16-325-923
Skype Name: Batja Mesquita