Cultural Orientation Moderates the Association Between Desired Affect and Depressed Mood Among Chinese International Students Living in the United States

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Abstract

Culture is thought to shape an individual’s ideal/desired emotions, which may in turn regulate actual emotional experiences (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). In particular, European Americans tend to favor high-arousal positive (HAP) affect, whereas East Asians favor low-arousal positive affect. This study examined whether cultural adaptation from the East Asian to Western culture is associated with similar differences in ideal and actual affect. We recruited 150 Chinese international students enrolled in a midsize university in the United States and investigated the role of acculturation to U.S. culture in participants’ ideal and actual affect as well as associated differences in depressive symptoms. Results showed that acculturation was associated with higher ideal and actual HAP affect (but not lower low-arousal positive affect). Consistent with Mauss et al. (2012), higher ideal HAP affect was directly associated with higher depressive symptoms for all participants. However, among participants with higher orientation to the U.S. culture, higher ideal HAP also had an indirect protective association with depressed mood (i.e., higher ideal HAP affect was associated with higher actual HAP affect, which in turn was associated with lower depressed mood).

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