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Shyness and Communal vs. Individualistic Orientations: Sensitivity to Emotion
Lynne Henderson, Keiko Kurita, and Philip Zimbardo
Department of Psychology, Stanford University
This was an exploratory study with a small sample. Level of shyness was unknown in the Asian American sample and ethnicity was not controlled for in the non-shy and shy sample. Also, the self-reported Asian American ethnic group includes a diversity of Asian cultures.
Future research should address the question of whether Asian Americans and shy individuals are slower to identify or label social threat emotions like disgust or anger because of a different, equally adaptive value system rather than to pathological anxiety and social avoidance. Our current research is investigating whether manipulating self-relevance will affect sensitivity to the facial expressions.
The shy and those from Asian cultures are higher in communal values, have more interdependent self-construals, and are higher in sensitivity. We therefore hypothesized that they would be more sensitive than the non-shy to facial expressions of emotion. Contrary to our hypotheses, the shy and Asian Americans were less, not more, sensitive to social threat and high intensity emotion. Otherwise, they did not differ from the non-shy. Interpersonal motives and cultural values may play an important role in the process.
Implications for psychotherapy
• It is important to attend to interpersonal motives and values when treating shy clients.
• Reticence may be part of interpersonal motives and values that are as adaptive as those of the non-shy, albeit different. If these motives and values are devalued in a possibly “disturbed” society, therapists need to take care not to collude in a negative or destructive stereotype.
Summary of results
Asian American participants were significantly less sensitive to anger and disgust than the non-shy. Shy participants were comparable to Asian Americans in sensitivity to disgust, differing from the non-shy, and did not differ from either group in sensitivity to anger.
Shy participants and Asian Americans rated happy as less intense overall than the non-shy.
Shy participants and Asian Americans did not differ from the non-shy in sensitivity to fear and surprise.
Females were more sensitive to sadness.
Shy participants were more comparable to Asian Americans overall in sensitivity to facial affect.
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Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that the shy and Asian Americans, while similar, were less likely to detect disgust, consistently assigning lower intensity ratings, and Asian Americans detected less anger.
Given the evidence that Asian Americans value and focus on calm or pleasant emotions while Caucasians value and focus on high-intensity emotions, cultural values may explain the lower sensitivity to anger, disgust, and happiness. (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). We can conjecture that shy individuals also value pleasant emotions more than high-intensity emotions.
Because shy individuals and those from Asian cultures value harmony and are higher in interdependent self-construals, they may be less willing to acknowledge social threat emotions until they become quite obvious. They may sense their emergence but resist labeling them until they consider contextual cues in the environment. We think this may be due to a different, equally adaptive value system rather than to psychopathological anxiety, particularly in a normative sample. If so, this pattern may be analogous to Mischel’s prevention focused vs. promotion focused personality style (Mischel, Shoda, & Smith, 2004).
Are Asian Americans and the shy slower to identify and label social threat emotions like disgust simply because of a more reflective, intellectual style wherein they are reluctant to make impulsive judgments? Alternatively, although more difficult to imagine, could both groups have more perceptual difficulty identifying some high intensity emotions, independent of interpersonal motives, values, self-construals, and sensory processing sensitivity?
Another possibility is that, because the emotion expressions were context free they were not seen as self-relevant, or as signaling implications for interpersonal dynamics, where greater sensitivity might be revealed.
Example of “Angry” frame #6 from neutral to extreme
Given that shy individuals and Asian Americans have more communal values, interdependent self-construals, and sensitivity to the concerns of others, we hypothesized that they would be more likely to detect facial expressions of fleeting emotions earlier in the development of an emotion from neutral to intense.We were particularly interested in anger and disgust emotions because they signify social threat, and in happiness because Caucasians tend to value and focus on high-intensity emotions while Asian Americans value and focus on more calm or pleasant emotions (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006).
Example of “Disgust” frame #8 from neutral to extreme
A 2 (gender) x 2 (shyness) x 9 (frames) mixed-model design with repeated measures on frame was used to analyze the data. A 2 x 2 x 9 multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted on gender, shy and frame (from 1 to 9) with frame as the repeated measure.