How universal are emotional experiences

Are Emotions Universal?

How we behave when we experience different emotions is at the heart of our interactions with other people. When we show our friends that we are excited or nervous and they mirror our behavior, we feel strongly connected.[1] Sometimes we even subconsciously sense how we are feeling without really realizing it. Have you ever noticed smiling at people on your television? Then you have already experienced such an emotional transference.

Such transmissions aren't limited to humans - if you dance for joy, your dog will soon do the same.

But do we really all feel the same? Are Emotions Universal?

The universal experience of emotions

Scientists have long been concerned with the question of whether we all experience the same range of emotions, including Charles Darwin in the 1870s and the psychologist Paul Ekman in the 1960s.

There are basic emotions like fear, contentment, or fear that are directly tied to our survival. If we are not scared at the sight of a grizzly bear, we have no chance. These basic emotions are firmly anchored in us and are shared by humans and animals alike.[2]

Ekman listed six basic emotions that exist in all human cultures: happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, and disgust.[3] This list was later expanded to include more complex emotions such as pride, guilt, embarrassment, and shame. Showing Ekman pictures of various facial expressions to people from isolated cultures, he observed that responses to emotions appeared to be universal. Recent studies also show that some emotions are shared around the world.[4]

In the case of more differentiated emotions such as love, admiration and envy, various research opinions exist as to whether we experience and recognize them in the same way. This puts Ekman's original thesis in a different light. Just smiling can produce different responses in different cultures.[5]

Individual experience of emotions

There can also be differences within societies in how emotions are experienced and articulated.
Just think about your friends and family: everyone expresses emotions in different ways. Even the slight twitch of an eyebrow can completely change our interpretation of what you are feeling.

Our emotions are triggered by processes in the brain that evaluate our physical environment, past experiences, memories and beliefs in a unique, individual way. While we have a similar range of emotions, the same trigger that causes anger in someone can cause fear in another person.

We also express our emotions in an individual way - some people are extroverted, others are more reserved. This suggests that observing behavior alone is not enough to determine whether the same feelings are being experienced.

A common emotional language

Where, when and how we express our emotions is also determined by social norms. Often these expectations are linked to age, gender, culture or situation. For example, the emotions you display at a wedding are different from what is considered acceptable at a funeral. These expectations of the expression of feelings are calledDisplay rules designated.[6]

So emotions are experienced internally, but the external expression of these feelings serves various social functions. For these to be understood, we all need to speak a common emotional language.

A common emotional language helps to strengthen a sense of community. The ability to recognize, understand, and empathize with the emotions of others is known as emotional intelligence.

By developing an understanding of how emotional language differs within and between cultures, we can develop our own emotional intelligence and thus cultivate fulfilling relationships with the people we care about.

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