Why Some Cultures Frown of Smiling
What do you think, what is wrong with this picture? The children are not wearing girl or boy scouts’ uniform, and the red tie indicates that they are part of a youth organization in one of the Eastern European post-communist country. However, this is not even the most unusual thing on the photograph. The children are not happy. This is how, we, western thinkers may interpret the message.
Kuba Krys, a psychology professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poland, teaches Cultural Diversity of Positive Aspects of Human Behavior, explains the serious look on the children’s face.
“In some countries, smiling might not be a sign of warmth or even respect. It’s evidence that you’re a fool—a tricky fool” (Khazan, 2016).
Krys stated that, cultures that score low on the uncertainty avoidance scale “tend to have social systems—courts, health-care systems, safety nets, and so forth—that are unstable. Therefore, people there view the future as unpredictable and uncontrollable” (Khazan, 2016).
Hofstede research on the cultural dimensions (Moran, Abramson, Moran, & Harris, 2014) defines uncertainty avoidance that measures how cultures adapt to changes and tolerate uncertainty. In countries where the uncertainty avoidance is low, suppress emotions is a social norm. Some of Hofstede and Krys’s research indicate different readings. Krys’s fund that, high power distance and masculine cultures are other factors that contribute to that how we express emotions. However, the USA is a masculine culture and smiling in the picture is almost mandatory.
Krys revealed that “countries like Germany, Switzerland, China, and Malaysia, smiling faces were rated as significantly more intelligent than non-smiling people. But in Japan, India, Iran, South Korea, and—you guessed it—Russia, the smiling faces were considered significantly less intelligent. Even after controlling for other factors, like the economy, there was a strong correlation between how unpredictable a society was and the likelihood they would consider smiling unintelligent” (Khazan, 2016).
“Countries to the left of the red line consider smiling people to be significantly less intelligent than non-smiling individuals; those to the right are the opposite” (Khazan, 2016).
Also, in India, Argentina, and in the Maldives smiling is connected with dishonesty and Krys found a correlation with those countries and high corruption rating.
“Countries to the left of the red line consider smiling faces to be less honest” (Khazan, 2016).
The photo does not deviate from a normal picture; only our western culture mind is wired differently. The children’s expression could be explained with a Russian proverb, “laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity.”
Khazan, O. (2016, May 27). Why Some Cultures Frown on Smiling. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/05/culture-and-smiling/483827/
Krys, K. (n.d.). Kuba Krys. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from http://krys.socialpsychology.org/
Moran, R. T., Abramson, N. R., Moran, S. V., & Harris, P. R. (2014). Managing cultural differences. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.