We can all agree that high school, for the most part, blows. It was the people you could relate to that helped each of us make it through high school with little casualty. I tried really hard to relate to everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. I really wanted to be friends with everyone and be the person that they were able to relate to. I used to walk down the history wing every day and admire the beautiful poster that hung outside my favorite teacher’s room that read:
“Everyone smiles in the same language.”
I loved that poster. I was “that girl” that was hopelessly idealistic. Now I hate to give up some of my idealism but we are now finding studies that suggest otherwise. Not necessarily that smiles mean differently across languages, but that other facial expressions including anger, fear, and disgust may be portrayed differently among other cultures. From what I can tell, I can still believe that a smile is universal.
According to an article by Michael Price of sciencemag.org, he suggests that scientists have been trying to crack this code for centuries, however an assumed and practiced methodology thought it put a stop to this ongoing search. Psychologist Paul Ekman was the man to supposedley put an end to the search. He concluded that across the board, that all cultures felt and expressed emotions in virtually the same way.
It wasn’t until 50 years later that scientists began pulling together information for a new hypothesis. The new hypothesis set culture as its independent variable in this observational study. The dependent variable was the association of each facial expression to an emotion. As scientists began to pick apart old findings it was easy to rule of reverse causation as the association most definitely did not decide their culture or beliefs.
The study follows a group of 72 villagers of different areas of Papua New Guinea. It is quite possible that the sample size of this study is too small. Additionally, these villagers are aged 9-15, therefore, it could be the product of simply age, a third variable.
The studies found that most evidently the faces of anger and fear that we are familiar with resonate very differently with the adolescents of Papua New Guinea. The researchers strongly suggest that it isn’t the reaction to the emotion that is the dependent variable, it is the recognition of the facial expression that is associated with that specific feeling.
Psychologist Alan Fridlund of UC Santa Barbara suggests some bias in this study. He believed that the overwhelming amount of negative emotions may have been a third variable that caused the Guineans to appear to recognize the photos differently. If the group had seen several positive emotions, they quite possibly could have had conflicting views of each of those emotions as well.
Overall, this study does not give us a straight answer to whether or not emotions are universal. Its obvious what the study wishes to lean towards, but overall we can conclude that there are too many third variables to know exactly whether or not we associate emotions exactly as our neighbor.