Notes on Intercultural Communication

Perception and Expression of Emotions in Different Cultures

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Perception and Expression of Emotions is not Culturally Universal


Visual Perception of Emotions in Different Cultures

visual reception of emotions

(Color coding is as follows: blue, “left eye”; green, “right eye”; yellow, “bridge of nose”; orange, “center of face”; red, “mouth.”)



(The succession of blue → green → blue circles (indicated by the black arrow) corresponds to the fixation sequence “left eye” → “right eye” → “left eye.”)

(…) Here, we report marked differences between EA (East Asians) and WC (Western Caucasian) observers in the decoding of universal facial expressions. EA observers exhibited a significant deficit in categorizing ‘‘fear’’ and ‘‘disgust’’ compared to WC observers. Also, WC observers distributed their fixations evenly across the face, whereas EA observers systematically biased theirs toward the eye region. A model observer revealed that EA observers sample information that is highly similar between certain expressions (i.e., ‘‘fear’’ and ‘‘surprise’’; ‘‘disgust’’ and ‘‘anger’’). Despite the apparent lack of diagnostic information, EA observers persisted in repetitively sampling the eye regions of ‘‘fear,’’ ‘‘disgust,’’ and ‘‘anger.’’ (…)

Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal by Rachael E. Jack (1, 2); Caroline Blais (3); Christoph Scheepers (1); Philippe G. Schyns (1,2) and Roberto Caldara (1,2) / (1)Department of Psychology, (2) Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi) University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QB, Scotland, UK, (3) Department de Psychologie, Universite de Montreal,Montreal, PQ H3C 3J7, Canada

Download the full .pdf here or online here.

(Current Biology -  Volume 19, Issue 18, 29 September 2009, Pages 1543-1548: retrieved 19.02.2011 under )


Visual Expressions of Emotions in Different Cultures

perception of facial expression

Spatiotemporal location of emotional intensity representation in Western Caucasian and East Asian culture. In each row, color-coded faces show the culture-specific spatiotemporal location of expressive features representing emotional intensity,for each of the six basic emotions. Color coding is asfollows: blue, Western Caucasian; red, East Asian, where values reflect the statistic. All color-coded regions show a significant (P<0.05) cultural difference asindicated by asterisks labeled on the color bar. Note: for the EA models (i.e., red face regions), emotional intensity is represented with characteristic early activations. 


Expression of Emotions in Western and East Asian Cultures

expression of facial expression

(…) The Western Caucasian models form six emotionally homogenous clusters (e.g., all 30 “happy” models belong to the same cluster, color-coded in purple). In contrast, the East Asian models show considerable model dissimilarity within each emotion category and overlap between categories, particularly for “surprise”,“fear”, “disgust”, “anger” and “sad”(note the heterogeneous color coding of these models). (…)

(…) First, whereas Westerners represent each of the six basic emotions with a distinct set of facial movements common to the group, Easterners do not. Second, Easterners represent emotional intensity with distinctive dynamic eye activity. By refuting the long-standing universality hypothesis, our data highlight the powerful influence of culture on shaping basic behaviors once considered biologically hardwired. (…)

Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal by Rachael E. Jack (a,b,1), Oliver G. B. Garrod (b), Hui Yu (b), Roberto Caldara (c), and Philippe G. Schyns (b) – (a) School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, Scotland G12 8Q (b); Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, Scotland G12 8QB, UnitedKingdom; and (c) Department of Psychology, University of Fribourg, Fribourg 1700, Switzerland; see also PNAS May 8, 2012; vol. 109 no. 19

(retrieved 23.06.2013 at


Emoticons in Different Cultures


(…) Emoticon styles can be either horizontal or vertical, where horizontal style is known to be preferred by western countries, and the vertical style by eastern countries. This study finds that an important factor determining emoticon style is language rather than geography. Regardless of their inherent meaning, most emoticons co-appeared with both positive and negative affect words (e.g., haha, smile, kill, freak). Furthermore, the contexts and sentiments that were frequently associated with a given emoticon varied from one culture to another. Our finding confirms that facial expressions may not be universal (…); people from different cultures perceive and employ facial expressions in unique ways, as easterners smile and frown with their eyes, whereas westerners do so with their mouth. This was even true in the online world. Therefore one might want to consider the cultural background of one’s followers to communicate efficiently in online social networks. (…)

emoticons in different cultures

Emoticon Style: Interpreting Differences in Emoticons Across Cultures by Jaram Park, Graduate School of Culture Technology, KAIST; Vladimir Barash, Morningside Analytics; Clay Fink, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; Meeyoung Cha, Graduate School of Culture Technology, KAIST;

Download the full .pdf online here or here.

(retrieved 30.10.2013 at and


Additional Material

Placing the Face in Context: Cultural Differences in the Perception of Facial Emotion


Placing the Face in Context


(…) Two studies tested the hypothesis that in judging people’s emotions from their facial expressions, Japanese, more than Westerners, incorporate information from the social context. In Study 1, participants  viewed cartoons depicting a happy, sad, angry, or neutral person surrounded by other people expressing the same emotion as the central person or a different one. The surrounding people’s emotions influenced Japanese but not Westerners’ perceptions of the central person. These differences reflect differences in attention, as indicated by eye-tracking data (Study 2): Japanese looked at the surrounding people more than did Westerners. Previous findings on East–West differences in contextual sensitivity generalize to social contexts, suggesting that Westerners see emotions as individual feelings, whereas Japanese see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group. (…)

Placing the Face in Context: Cultural Differences in the Perception of Facial Emotion by Takahiko Masuda, University of Alberta; Phoebe C. Ellsworth, University of Michigan; Batja Mesquita, Wake Forest University; Janxin Leu, University of Washington; Shigehito Tanida, Hokkaido University; Ellen Van de Veerdonk, University of Amsterdam

Download the full pfd here.

(retrieved 23.06.2013 at


Perception of Bodily Sensations during Emotion in different Cultures

“While riding a train, a Chinese friend and I had eaten a lot of snacks that did not mix well. I suddenly suffered from nausea and realized that I was pressing the epigastric region with one hand. I was sure that I had strained my stomach.

At the same moment, my Chinese friend said that he was suffering from vertigo and he seemed very concerned about it. I inquired about his perception several times. He insisted that he was suffering from vertigo and only after some time he remarked that something was wrong with his stomach.

I tried also to experience vertigo, and actually found it was not very difficult because the nausea was associated with a feeling of unclarity or confusion in my head.”

(…) This anectodical story illustrates well how bodily changes in similar situations can be experienced very differently by members of different cultures. Such differences can originate at various levels of the somatisation processes, from the production of physiological changes, to their detection, to their labelling and, ultimatly, to their memory. (…)

The perception of bodily sensations during emotion: A cross-cultural perspective by Pierre Philippot & Bernard Rimé, Research Unit for Clinical & Social Psychology, University of Louvain at Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; to appear in Polish Journal of Social Psychology, 1997

Download the full article here.

(retrieved 23.06.2013 at


For more about facial expressions see The Origin of Facial Expressions

(reviewed 30.10.2013)

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Written by NoToes

24/02/2011 at 20:27

Posted in All Articles, China, Collectivism and Individualism, Culture influences Brain, Emotions in Different Cultures, Intercultural Management, Surveys

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2 Responses

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  1. Dein Homepage ist echt cool! you are an international man!:-)


    29/08/2011 at 22:41

  2. […] For more information about expression of emotions see Perception and Expression of Emotions in Different Cultures. […]

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