Culture shapes electrocortical responses during emotion suppression


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Abstract

Previous work has shown that emotional control is highly valued in Asian culture. However, little is known about how this cultural value might influence emotional processing. Here, we hypothesized that Asians are ‘culturally trained’ to down-regulate emotional processing when required to suppress emotional expressions. Such down-regulation, however, is unlikely for European Americans because their culture values emotional expression (vs control) more. To test these predictions, we adopted the parietal late positive potential (LPP) of the event-related potential as an objective indicator of emotional processing. Both Asian and European Americans were exposed to either unpleasant or neutral pictures while instructed to either attend or suppress expression of emotions. Both groups showed an equally pronounced parietal positivity ∼600 ms post-stimulus. As predicted, however, Asians subsequently showed a significant decrease of the parietal LPP in the suppression (vs attend) condition. The initial positivity completely disappeared 2000 ms post-stimulus. In contrast, for European Americans the parietal LPP suppression effect was completely absent although there was an early occurring, sustained increase in frontal positivity in the suppression (vs attend) condition. Implications for culture and emotion research are discussed.

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