By Ammara Hashmi

Because facial expressions possess nonverbal accents according to culture, people often more accurately assess emotions in people from their own culture. Even individuals who are born blind have facial expressions that are similar to those of seeing people. Darwin argued that in pre-language times, humans used facial expressions to communicate important things to one another such as when there was a threat in the environment, and this is a possible explanation as to why facial expressions are so universal.

ammarahashmiPeople use context to help determine what a facial expression means; for example, people will be more apt to say that a person who looks angry looks scared if that person is seen in a scary setting. Members of cultures with an emphasis on individualism have been found to be more emotionally expressive than people in collectivistic cultures such as Chinese culture. The culture you are from will influence your tendency to either look up or down when you have to ponder a question asked of you. 

There are significant differences in how people from eastern and western cultures assess interpersonal situations. A research demonstrates that when North Americans are trying to figure out how a person is feeling, they selectively focus on that particular person’s facial expression, whereas Japanese consider the emotions of the other people in the situation. This suggests that Asians take account of environment when interpreting emotions and have a holistic perspective. However, Americans are more tilted towards the individualistic approach. 

This suggests that Asians seem to have a more holistic pattern of attention, perceiving people in terms of the relationships to others. People raised in the North American tradition often find it easy to isolate a person from its surroundings, while East Asians are accustom to read the air ‘kuuki wo yomu’ of the situation through their cultural practices, and as a result, they think that even surrounding people’s facial expressions are an informative source to understand the particular person’s emotion.