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According to some theories, emotions are universal phenomena, albeit affected by culture. Emotions are "internal phenomena that can, but do not always, make themselves observable through expression and behavior". While some emotions are universal and are experienced in similar ways as a reaction to similar events across all cultures, other emotions show considerable cultural differences in their antecedent events, the way they are experienced, the reactions they provoke and the way they are perceived by the surrounding society. According to other theories, termed social constructionist, emotions are more deeply culturally influenced. The components of emotions are universal, but the patterns are social constructions. Some also theorize that culture is affected by emotions of the people.
Research on the relationship between culture and emotions dates back to 1872 when Darwin argued that emotions and the expression of emotions are universal. Since that time, the universality of the six basic emotions (i.e., happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise) has ignited a discussion amongst psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. While emotions themselves are universal phenomena, they are always influenced by culture. How emotions are experienced, expressed, perceived, and regulated varies as a function of culturally normative behavior by the surrounding society. Therefore, it can be said that culture is a necessary framework for researchers to understand variations in emotions.
In Darwin's opening chapter of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, (1872/1998) Darwin considered the face to be the preeminent medium of emotional expression in humans, and capable of representing both major emotions and subtle variations within each one. Darwin's ideas about facial expressions and his reports of cultural differences became the foundation for ethological research strategies. Silvan Tomkins' (1962) Affect Theory 1963) built upon Darwin's research, arguing that facial expressions are biologically based, and universal manifestations of emotions. The research of Paul Ekman (1971) and Carroll Izard (1971) further explored the proposed universality of emotions, showing that the expression of emotions were recognized as communicating the same feelings in cultures found in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Ekman (1971) and Izard (1971) both created sets of photographs displaying emotional expressions that were agreed upon by Americans. These photographs were then shown to people in other countries with the instructions to identify the emotion that best describes the face. The work of Ekman, and Izard, concluded that facial expressions were in fact universal, innate, and phylogenetically derived. Some theorists, including Darwin, even argued that "Emotion ... is neuromuscular activity of the face". Many researchers since have criticized this belief and instead argue that emotions are much more complex than initially thought. In addition to pioneering research in psychology, ethnographic accounts of cultural differences in emotion began to emerge. Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist writes about unique emotional phenomena she experienced while living among a small village of 600 Samoans on the island of Ta'u in her book Coming of Age in Samoa. Gregory Bateson, an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and visual anthropologist used photography and film to document his time with the people of Bajoeng Gede in Bali. According to his work, cultural differences were very evident in how the Balinese mothers displayed muted emotional responses to their children when the child showed a climax of emotion. In displays of both love (affection) and anger (temper) Bateson's notes documented that mother and child interactions did not follow Western social norms. The fieldwork of anthropologist Jean Briggs details her almost two year experience living with the Utku Inuit people in her book Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family . Briggs lived as the daughter of an Utku family describing their society as particularly unique emotional control. She rarely observed expressions of anger or aggression and if it were expressed, it resulted in ostracism.
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