Sunday, April 18, 2010

sort of conclusiony bit

Koreans will very likely keep their fiery reputations, and Americans will wear their hearts on their sleeves for long into the future. These differences are indeed the spice of life. This study has shown that both the nature and the nurture approach to emotional communication play a role in the interpretation of communicative acts. Moreover, when an emotional script embedded in our native culture is not enacted by the foreign culture, cognitive dissonance arises. For the individuals experiencing that dissonance, resolving that dissonance will be critical in moving forward toward cross-cultural understanding. For those of us who through our work and personal lives spend time crossing the divides between cultures the ability to better understand and more rapidly appreciate the differences is a great benefit. Moreover finding out what bits and pieces of cross-cultural misunderstanding lie embedded in “less than conscious” elements of our communication process and bringing those elements forward into our conscious awareness can only improve our relationships across cultures.

a bit more discussion

One of the important questions of this research is how well do the non-Koreans interpret Korean emotional expressions. Predictably enough, sometimes the North Americans got it right, sometimes they were wrong and sometimes they got it partially correct. As part of the research methodology, the North Americans were informed of areas where they had made the same interpretations as the Korean informants, as well as where their interpretations differed. Their responses to the similarities and differences was telling in important ways. First when the non-native participant interpreted the emotions correctly, for any reason (ie, the two cultures share similar scripts, or the participant had developed sufficient understanding of the other culture), no one including the focus group facilitator felt cognitive dissonance; therefore, the group tended to move on in the discussion. When the participants did not interpret correctly—whether they were thoroughly of base, or they had simply misinterpreted the intensity—discussion always ensued.

One example illustrates both cases. In the scene where a parent interrupts a faculty meeting to accuse Mr. Kim of bribe taking and extortion of his son, the participants were fairly confused about the interpretation of situation and the emotions expressed:

Participant B: [When the clip was played without sound] I thought, I was thinking only anger. But when it came on again for the first few seconds I was thinking… “drunk anger”? (laughter) I’m not sure (more laughter)

Participant A: The only thing I can think of is that the teacher did something to his daughter.

(Overlap PB: yeah… that was on my)

Participant A: You see I was thinking that there is no other… which might be a woman thing (Participant D: laughter) I don’t know but I was just like what else can get a parent that angry, but then he talked about money and I was like “okay… I guess not”

Then later as part of the same discussion the question of appropriate intensity comes up:

Participant A: If I knew the situation, so I thought that maybe he had done something with his daughter. Had I known that for sure, my answer for how high is the anger would have been would have been would have been higher, do you understand? Then when I hear later it’s about money, I’m like “oh, he’s angry” but come on it’s money. That’s my judgment. … Come on, because I originally thought it was worse.

Clearly in this instance the participants required a good deal of conversation work to come to terms with the differences between their North American interpretation of the emotional expressions in this situation and the one suggested by the Koreans.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

more discussion

In addition, the participants noted that emotional scripts can require a variety of false expressions. Participant Y pointed out a case of contradictory expressions when the Mediator in one scene seemed “a little anxious and worried, but he was hiding it with laughter.” In another case masked emotions were noted: “The businessman [showed] anxiety, relief, happiness/joy. Also it seemed he was trying to hide his inner/true feelings/thoughts” (participant U). Diminished or exaggerated emotions were also noted in several instances, for instance, participant C remarked, “I completely agree that they are being really fake with him. But at the same time I think they were being quite real about how they feel about the school and how they care about the kids.”

Problems of interpretation arise however, when the emotion expressions displayed (and perceived) do not match the expressions required by the script. In terms of interpretation, the participants were caught in a sort of “chicken or the egg” situation. Do they believe that the person did not appraise the situation—and therefore the appropriate script—correctly, or are they simply expressing inappropriate emotions? Both interpretations were seen. When Mr. Kim does not follow the appropriate cultural script, participant A blames him for inappropriate behavior: “[he seemed] overconfident and, umm… because when the guy introduces himself . . . he was just like, “yeah, yeah” and just keeps eating, got his mouthful, the guy gives him his card and he just throws it in his pocket right away.” Alternatively, a person could misunderstand the situation resulting in dissonance, “He/she said that his/her students were nodding their heads and smiling in the class while they did not understand instructions fully. He went on assuming that they all understood and later found that they didn’t. This made him feel danghwang (surprised and confused)” (participant U).


While the final results of this study have yet to be complete, some of the clear themes can be discussed.

4.1. The interpretation of emotional meaning is not straightforward.
Much of Ekman’s (Ekman, 1993, 1997, 1999a, 1999b, 2003; Ekman, et al., 1972) basic research into emotion requires individuals to name the emotion that they are seeing. Similarly, in this study the participants were fairly well able to name the emotions they saw, but although most were glad to be able to select their own vocabulary in the naming process, many also had some important difficulties in explaining why they are naming that emotion. Participants frequently used phrases like: “I don’t know,” or “I guess.”
Moreover, all three of the various systems that have been discussed here for interpreting emotion were seen in this study. That is to say participants used paralinguistic interpretations, situational and script based interpretations, lexical interpretations, as well as combinations of the three. The most common cues for interpretation were from different paralinguistic markers: “my first adjective was shy, again and I got that because he was sitting the whole time with his shoulders hunched over” (participant C). However, they also frequently used a variety of situational interpretations: “I didn’t see the movie but know the story, and this made me perceive noonchi (concern for the feelings of others present)” (participant Y). Finally, well much less common lexical interpretations were also seen: “when only the two were talking and he is not, I felt like that’s all flattery” (participant A).

4.2. Emotional scripts play a role.
Emotional scripts are the sorts of preordained patterns for the appropriate communication of emotion in each culture (Planalp, 1999; Saarni, 1989; Tannen, 1990). Similarly, the appraisal of emotion describes how we interpret what the appropriate emotion ought to be (Scherer, 1982, 1999), perhaps based on a cultural script. Unlike direct indications of emotion, scripts are often noted in different ways, for example stereotypes can come to the surface: “Korean people are often compared to as fighting chickens” (participant Q), or those scripts could be indicated through proverbs, “There is a saying that things work if you raising your voice in Korea, and I think raising one’s voice easily seems like a Korean way” (participant Z).

Along the same lines, the participants spontaneously pointed out that Scripts are not entirely rigid and preset. For one, they suggested that emotional scripts have a gendered character: “It is usually a mother who is ‘super-involved’ in their kids’ lives that fights with teachers but it was a father in this clip” (participant V). They also noted that emotional scripts can be embedded in certain cultural acts: “When the parent entered the room angrily, the teacher was running around and making hand gestures wishing other (teachers) fight for/help him, and I thought this was a little Korean. Trying to do it together (and sort of hiding in the crowd) and hoping other teachers deal with parents and not wanting to deal one-on-one with the teacher showed” (participant R).