Psychology Grand Rounds

A Cultural Perspective on Emotional- and Self-Complexity across the Lifespan

The last two decades of work in cultural psychology documented a great deal of variation in conceptions of the self and cognitive styles: some cultural groups (e.g., Japanese) prefer a more contextual representation of social experiences and others prefer a more self-focused representation (e.g., Americans). Such differences in cognitive processing styles may have consequences for emotional experiences, specifically emotional complexity. In the present talk I will first explore several major forms of emotional complexity in a set of seven cultures. With a large dataset (N= 1576) I will show that context-oriented cultures (Japan, Korea, India, Russia) represent their emotional experiences in a more differentiated fashion and report greater co-occurrence of positive and negative affect than self-oriented cultures (U.S., UK, Germany). In the next step, I will integrate the cultural perspective with a lifespan developmental approach, proposing that cultures that encourage social mobility over the lifespan (e.g., the U.S.) foster development of more complex self- and emotional representations. In contrast, cultures that encourage social stability (e.g., Japan) do not show this tendency. Data from the representative samples of Americans (n = 226) and Japan (n = 417) supported this contention. At the end of the talk, I will discuss theoretical and practical implications of this work for cognitive and emotional processes, culture, aging, and the self.