Are Positive Emotions Just as “Positive” Across Cultures?

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Are Positive Emotions Just as “Positive” Across Cultures?

This research was conducted with the assumption that the positive emotions may be more protective factor in the mental health of European Americans than they are in Asians. The researchers investigated the correlation between positive emotions and depression symptom frequency and between negative emotions and depression symptom frequency. They also compared United States (US)-born Asian American participants with European Americans and foreign-born immigrant Asians to find about the role of acculturation and to demonstrate cultural differences in the role of positive emotions in depression. In regards to the methods of the study, the researchers selected 633 college students from a public university in the US, of which 330 were European Americans who were at least third generation, 156 immigrant Asians who, on average, came to US at the age of 11 years old, and 147 Asian Americans who were born in the US to immigrant parents. All of the participants completed an hour-long computer survey which measured perceived stress, emotions, frequency of depression symptoms, and demographics. For independent variables, they used the Perceived Stress Scale and the Positive and Negative Emotions Schedule-X (PANAS-X). For dependent variables, they used the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) which measured subclinical depression symptoms.

The results showed that immigrant Asians and Asian Americans reported more frequent depression symptoms than European Americans. While the intensity of negative emotion and depression were positively correlated for all groups, the intensity of positive emotion and depression symptoms were negatively correlated among European Americans and Asian Americans, but not among immigrant Asians. Also, dialectical relationship between positive and negative emotions was found among immigrant Asians but not Asian Americans. Regarding the role of culture, it was found that the interaction between positive emotions and culture was significant, whereas the interaction between negative emotions and culture was not significant. Additionally, no evidence was found that low-arousal positive emotions would predict depression among Asian participants but not among European Americans. The finding supported the initial hypothesis which is that the culture may moderate the role of positive emotions in mental health, specifically, that the positive emotions play a protective role for European Americans but not as much as for Asians. As an explanation for this result, the researchers wrote that it was “because of cultural differences in the meaning assigned to positive, but not negative, emotions [and] while maximizing positive emotions maybe a cultural goal in Western contexts, emotion moderation through balancing positive emotions with negative ones may be a cultural goal in Asian contexts.” (Leu, Wang, & Koo, 2011)

This research can be useful in that it suggests several directions for future research and it provides clinically significant information for mental health professionals to consider in their assessment and intervention. With regards to the direction for future research, the current study selected immigrant Asian participants who came to US at an average age of 11 years to represent Asians in Asia. However, it would be difficult to generalize that the role of culture on the positive emotions in the immigrant Asian participants’ mental health is the same for the Asians in Asia. It is because the environment they are in is very different from that of Asians in Asia, especially considering the immigration of the participants occurred at the average of 11 years of age where a certain level of acculturation must have occurred already by the time they became adults. Therefore, the examination of either Asians in Asia or recent Asian immigrants who not only came to US as an adult but also have been in the US for less...
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