How Influences on Emotional Expression Impact Communication

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  • 0:00 Emotional Expression
  • 1:04 Cultural Influences
  • 3:25 Personal &…
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

We all have emotions, but how we deal with them is dependent on a variety of factors. In this lesson, explore various influences on emotional expression and see how that impacts communication. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Emotional Expression

Hey, nice to see you. Whoa now, don't go getting all emotional on me. Yes, we all have emotions, the perceived state of being defined by feelings, but that doesn't mean everybody else needs to see them. Or, does it? Turns out, the way we express emotions, from when we show them to when we hide them, can dramatically impact how we communicate with people. Now, before we go on, it's important to know that this is a choice. Researchers have demonstrated that all humans have the same range of emotions, obviously, but also that our natural facial expressions for those emotions are the same. We all smile when we're happy or frown when we're sad. So, since we all experience emotions the same, any differences in how we express them are a choice, be it conscious or subconscious. But, what influences this choice? Let's check it out, but just try to keep it together, okay?

Cultural Influences

Anytime we have something that is physiologically consistent across humanity but is experienced very differently by different people, one of the first places we can look is culture. Culture is a set of expectations, values, and knowledge shared by people of the same background or society, and the rules of our culture influence pretty much everything about us, including our emotional reactions. Say you come from Italian culture. You're more likely to be more publicly open about emotions, from passion to sadness, than someone from, say, Japanese culture, where composure in public is more polite. Your cultural values define how you expect people to handle their emotions, as well as which emotional response is most appropriate to each situation. When people break those expectations, it can be uncomfortable and can drastically impact if and how others are willing to communicate with them.

Within a culture, there are other divisions as well. Your social role, where you fit in society, can be important. In many cultures, elderly people are expected to have more emotional control than younger people, for example. Another important distinction is gender, cultural expectations about behaviors based on a person's sex. Your physiology defines your sex; gender is just the cultural belief about how your sex should act, and this often includes emotional responses. In many Western cultures, males are expected to be more emotionally reserved than females. However, males may get emotionally ecstatic about sports. On the other hand, in several traditional Amerindian cultures of the Great Plains, open, uncontrolled bawling was a sign of mourning expected of the most masculine, courageous warriors. Our cultures create expectations of how and when emotional expressions are important. Obeying these expectations communicates an understanding of cultural rules and indicates that a person belongs. Failure to obey cultural rules about emotional expressions communicates distance away from the norm. This can actually make emotions a pretty powerful sign of protest when people refuse to obey the constraints of cultural expectations.

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