A recent research shows that European Americans want to maximize positive feelings and minimize negative ones more than Chinese people do.
Tamara Sims,Stanford psychology postdoctoral fellow, was the lead author of the research paper, Wanting to Maximize the Positive and Minimize the Negative: Implications for Mixed Affective Experience in American and Chinese Contexts, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyon June 30.
Sims said people are often unaware that culture shapes emotions, and many assume everyone wants to actually feel the same way across cultures.
"Within multicultural communities, organizations, and institutions prevalent in modern societies like ours, this can lead to deep misunderstandings, biased interpersonal interactions, tension, and conflict," she told China Daily on Monday.
For instance, during good events, Americans might view Chinese who smile less and feel bad as being unhappy and even depressed when in fact they are feeling how their culture ideally wants them to feel, she explained.
This is because Americans tend to be more individualistic and Chinese tend to be more collectivistic, according to the research.
"Our work shows cultural differences in ideal affect such that Americans want to feel positive more often and negative less often than Chinese in daily life and across a variety of situations," Sims said.
"We found that these values are associated with Americans seeing themselves as independent and unique from others, compared to Chinese who see themselves as interdependent and fundamentally connected to others," she added.
"When experiencing an accomplishment, in Chinese culture, where one is more connected to others, one can be motivated to enjoy one's accomplishment but also wants to acknowledge that it came at the expense of someone else," Sims explained.
In contrast, in American culture, where one can separate themselves from others, one may want to just relish in the accomplishment in that moment independent of how others may be feeling, she said.
Sims argued that these distinct views are continuously shaped by prominent cultural ideas, practices and institutions, and as a result, cultural differences in ideal affect are chronically, and often unconsciously, shaping people's experiences in daily life.
The researchers conducted four studies with 690 participants including European Americans, Chinese Americans in the United States, and Chinese in Hong Kong and Beijing.
The participants were given questionnaires assessing their emotions, values and how much they ideally wanted to feel positive relative to negative emotions.
Sims said the previous similar studies had not shown how and when cultural ideals of emotion can directly produce these differences, so their new research focused on how much people in two different cultures prefer positive emotions over negative ones.
"We do observe that Americans report actually feeling more positive and less negative than Chinese do across all of our studies," she said.
"Interestingly, we also find that across cultures, people report experiencing events as pleasant the majority of the time, which suggests that even though Chinese experience positive less and negative more than Americans, still they are construing the event as a pleasant one likely because their experience matches their cultural ideal," she said.