Here, Mesquita—joining her sometime co-author Lisa Feldman Barrett and other contemporary constructionists—enlists linguistic data to undermine the universalist view of emotions...Japanese, Mesquita points out, has one word, haji, to mean both 'shame' and 'embarrassment'; in fact, many languages (including my own first language, Tamil) make no such distinction...The Bedouins’ word hasham covers not only shame and embarrassment but also shyness and respectability...The Ilongot of the Philippines have a word, bētang, that touches on all those, plus on awe and obedience...It gets worse. According to Mesquita, 'There is no good translation for self-esteem in Chinese'...Native speakers of Luganda, in East Africa, she tells us, 'use the same word, okusunguwala, for "anger" and "sadness"'...Japanese people, she says, are shocked to learn that English has no word that’s equivalent to amae: 'a complete dependence on the nurturant indulgence of their caregiver'...When the Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi told a colleague about this inexplicable lacuna, the colleague exclaimed, 'Why, even a puppy does it'...Mesquita concludes that 'languages organize the domain very differently, and make both different kinds as well as different numbers of distinctions'...One reason people resist the notion that emotions might be different in different cultures, Mesquita acknowledges, is a desire for inclusivity: the worry is that 'to say that people from other groups or cultures have different emotions is equivalent to denying their humanity'...Mesquita’s psychological research, like the earlier work in anthropology and sociolinguistics she draws on, is clearly intended to overturn orthodox theories of emotion, both academic theories and the 'folk theory' that’s implicit in the way we talk about our emotions...The real moral of all this research may be rather modest...People are complicated, and different from one another...Some of the differences are those among language communities, with their various norms and conventions.
Arguing that 'we primarily have emotions in order to adjust to changes in our relationship with the (social) world,' the author uses social psychology and eye-opening case studies to examine the cultural, political, and economic factors that influence what people feel...Mesquita lays out two ways of thinking about emotions: MINE ('Mental, INside the person, and Essentialist') and OURS ('OUtside the person, Relational, and Situated')...She suggests that Western cultures tend to take the MINE approach while OURS predominates everywhere else, and she cites a study that found Japanese Olympic athletes emphasized the relational aspect of emotions more than their American counterparts in interviews...Exploring how parents instruct children in emotional norms, Mesquita describes how Minangkabau people in West Sumatra shame kids when they break a norm and how Bara people in Madagascar teach the young to fear displeasing ancestral spirits so that the children comply with authority...The bounty of case studies captivates and makes a strong argument that social conditions have the power to dictate how one expresses and experiences emotions...The result is a bracing and bold appraisal of how feelings develop.
Born and raised in Holland, a professor in the U.S. for 20 years, and now the director of the Center for Social and Cultural Psychology in Leuven, Belgium, Mesquita has learned that her emotions—or anyone’s emotions—are not part of some kind of universal default. As the author shows, outside of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) cultures, 'talking about our emotions as internal experiences is quite exceptional in the world. People in many cultures talk about emotions as more "public, social, and relational"…as acts in the social and moral world'...In other words, 'emotions are OURS as much as they are MINE'...For skeptical readers, Mesquita delivers a few interesting jolts...We take for granted that expressing emotions is psychologically healthy...Mesquita maintains that much scientifically confirmed psychology does not survive exposure to other cultures...Countless words regarding emotions fail to translate across language barriers...An astute psychological study of emotions around the world.