Americans Focus On That Particular Person To Figure Out Their Emotions While Japanese Look At The Other People In The Area To Figure Emotions

The Japanese may not make as much eye contact with the individual in the conversation. That could make an American feel uncomfortable and make negative assessments about their Japanese conversational partner.

When It Comes To Emotions, Eastern And Western Cultures See Things Very Differently
Science Daily (Mar. 7, 2008) — A team of researchers from Canada and Japan have uncovered some remarkable results on how eastern and western cultures assess situations very differently.
Across two studies, participants viewed images, each of which consisted of one centre model and four background models in each image. The researchers manipulated the facial emotion (happy, angry, sad) in the centre or background models and asked the participants to determine the dominant emotion of the centre figure.

The majority of Japanese participants (72%) reported that their judgments of the centre person's emotions were influenced by the emotions of the background figures, while most North Americans (also 72%) reported they were not influenced by the background figures at all.

"What we found is quite interesting," says Takahiko Masuda, a Psychology professor from the University of Alberta. "Our results demonstrate 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 may be because Japanese attention is not concentrated on the individual, but includes everyone in the group, says Masuda.

For the second part of the study, researchers monitored the eye movements of the participants and again the results indicated that the Japanese looked at the surrounding people more than the westerners when judging the situation.

While both the Japanese and westerners looked to the central figure during the first second of viewing the photo, the Japanese looked to the background figures at the very next second, while westerners continued to focus on the central figure.

"East Asians seem to have a more holistic pattern of attention, perceiving people in terms of the relationships to others," says Masuda. "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."

These findings are published in the upcoming issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the results are replicated in a collaborative study between Huaitang Wang and Takahiko Masuda (University of Alberta, Canada) and Keiko Ishii (Hokkaido University, Japan)

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Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

The Study Reveals That In Cultures Where Emotional Control Is The Standard, Such As Japan, Focus Is Placed On The Eyes To Interpret Emotions

In my coaching I find that my clients from Asian cultures have a hard time understanding and being understood by Americans. The findings in the study below lead me to believe that they are looking at a different part of the face for information about emotions.

Culture Is Key To Interpreting Facial Emotions
Science Daily (Apr. 5, 2007) — Research has uncovered that culture is a determining factor when interpreting facial emotions. The study reveals that in cultures where emotional control is the standard, such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where emotion is openly expressed, such as the United States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret emotion.

Across two studies, using computerized icons and human images, the researchers compared how Japanese and American cultures interpreted images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

"These findings go against the popular theory that the facial expressions of basic emotions can be universally recognized," said University of Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. "A person's culture plays a very strong role in determining how they will perceive emotions and needs to be considered when interpreting facial expression"

These cultural differences are even noticeable in computer emoticons, which are used to convey a writer's emotions over email and text messaging. Consistent with the research findings, the Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while American emoticons vary with the direction of the mouth. In the United States the emoticons : ) and : - ) denote a happy face, whereas the emoticons :( or : - ( denote a sad face. However, Japanese tend to use the symbol (^_^) to indicate a happy face, and (;_;) to indicate a sad face.

When participants were asked to rate the perceived levels of happiness or sadness expressed through the different computer emoticons, the researchers found that the Japanese still looked to the eyes of the emoticons to determine its emotion.

"We think it is quite interesting and appropriate that a culture that tends to masks its emotions, such as Japan, would focus on a person's eyes when determining emotion, as eyes tend to be quite subtle," said Masuda. "In the United States, where overt emotion is quite common, it makes sense to focus on the mouth, which is the most expressive feature on a person's face."

These findings are published in the current issue of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and are a result from a collaborative study between Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University), William Maddux (INSEAD) and Takahiko Masuda (University of Alberta). The results also suggest the interesting possibility that the Japanese may be better than Americans at detecting "false smiles". If the position of the eyes is the key to whether someone's smile is false or true, Japanese may be particularly good at detecting whether someone is lying or being "fake". However, these questions can only be answered with future research.

Email or share this story:Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

What A Connection!

"Most Likely To End Up Together," says Patti Wood, body language expert, in OK Weekly Magazine. Zac Efron's and Vanessa Hudgens' nonverbal body language towards each other causes Patti to make this statement. Patti reveals it all at the link!

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at