A Socio-Cultural Instrumental Approach to Emotion Regulation: Culture and the Regulation of Positive Emotions

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Abstract

We propose a sociocultural instrumental approach to emotion regulation. According to this approach, cultural differences in the tendency to savor rather than dampen positive emotions should be more pronounced when people are actively pursuing goals (i.e., contexts requiring higher cognitive effort) than when they are not (i.e., contexts requiring lower cognitive efforts), because cultural beliefs about the utility of positive emotions should become most relevant when people are engaging in active goal pursuit. Four studies provided support for our theory. First, European Americans perceived more utility and less harm of positive emotions than Japanese did (Study 1). Second, European Americans reported a stronger relative preference for positive emotions than Asians, but this cultural difference was larger in high cognitive effort contexts than in moderate or low cognitive effort contexts (Study 2). Third, European Americans reported trying to savor rather than dampen positive emotions more than Asians did when preparing to take an exam, a typical high cognitive effort context (Studies 3–4), but these cultural differences were attenuated when an exam was not expected (Study 3) and disappeared when participants expected to interact with a stranger (Study 4). These findings suggest that cultural backgrounds and situational demands interact to shape how people regulate positive emotions.

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