One of the clearest ways to compare the accuracy of the non-native’s ability to recognize emotions as seen by people native to the culture is to ask if they see the same emotions. In this study, Appendix XXX is the notetaking worksheet that the participants used in recording each participants judgment regarding the presence or absence of some basic emotions. At the bottom of that sheet you can see that each primary character in each scene was to be rated on Ekman’s seven basic emotions. The reason participants were limited to the seven basic emotions was to enable an apples to apples comparison (Erkut, Alarcón, García Coll, Tropp, & Vázquez García, 1999) of their intensity responses. Consequently, these results provide another window for us to gauge the relative difference between the native culture participants’ judgments of the emotional intensity and the non-native participants’ judgments of the same emotions.
The participants rated the intensity of each of the seven emotions [sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, anger, contempt, and enjoyment] on a modified Likert scale in which they first needed to indicate the presence or absence of that emotion in the display of that particular character in that particular scene. Thus, with seven emotions and three characters in each of the two clips, a total of forty-two emotions were evaluated. In evaluating the ratings, the results were looked at using two separate lenses, representing lower and higher standards of agreement. In the lower standard lens, a simple majority of responses–not quite a forced choice–in each national group, were considered to be agreement as to the presence or absence of the emotion. If there was an exact tie the results were considered unclear. Under the higher standard of measurement, if the 75% or more of the nationality group stated that the emotion was present or absent then that result was considered a clear indication of presence or absence. If the response was between 25 and 75% then the result was considered unclear. This analysis regarding the presence or absence of emotions could provide a variety of results: the two groups could disagree in a contradictory fashion [one group clearly seeing the emotion, while the other clearly did not see the emotion], or one group could have a clear response while the other group’s response was unclear, or the two groups could agree.
When applying the simple majority standard to the forty-two cases to be evaluated, the Korean and North American groups agreed 86% of the time. In just less than 10% of cases, the two groups had contradictory results–one group stating that they saw the emotion, while the other group did not. While the other 4% of cases represented instances where one group was uncertain, while the other group perceived the emotion. Eighty-six percent agreement would seem a fairly high level–indeed it exceeds the level at which Ekman set for his cross-cultural studies. When we apply the more stringent 75% standard of agreement in the monocultural groups–requiring 75% or more of the individuals in the cultural group to agree on the presence or absence of the emotion–the results have all large increase in the number of unclear responses. Indeed, in about 35% of the cases one group’s response was unclear well the other group clearly saw an emotion or did not see that emotion. However, the Korean and North American groups still agreed almost 65% of the time, including acute cases where both groups were unclear. Perhaps more importantly, in no cases under this higher standard of contradictory results–where one group perceived an emotion, while the other one did not. This lack of strongly contradictory results seems particularly important, because if one culture clearly and strongly perceived emotion that the other culture clearly and strongly did not perceive, then we would find ourselves looking at a strong case of linguistic relativism indicating major difficulties in the intercultural communication of emotional cues.
A strong case can be made for a fairly broad capability of the non-native participants in this study to, in the large majority of cases, accurately perceive the same basic emotions that the Koreans were perceiving. However, while this result was in line with Ekman’s research, and therefore not entirely surprising, the fact that a real range of questionable and contradictory understandings were found in this study raises an important question that this study was not designed to address: Is there a threshold point where the misinterpretation of displayed emotional cues results in problems for intercultural communication? Is eighty percent accuracy enough for productive and civil interaction, or would a “one in a million” misinterpretation be sufficient to cause problems between individuals?
In addition to determining the presence or absence of the emotions and when the Korean and North American groups are in agreement, the Likert scales can be used to explore differences in intensity ratings for observed emotions across the cultural groups. This question of ability to interpret the intensity of emotions will be addressed later in this section of the chapter.