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Cultural Differences and Emotion Socialization Among Children - Literature Review Example

5 pages
1333 words
Carnegie Mellon University
Type of paper: 
Literature review
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The aim of emotion socialization is to promote the emotion competence of children. This competence is strongly embedded in the childrens cultural contexts which also influence the expectations of caregivers in relation to the appropriateness of a childs emotion expression and experience. Based on the significant influence that cultural context has on the emotion socialization of children, the following paper presents a review of the literature on cultural differences in relation to emotion socialization among children.

According to Lewis, Takai-Kawakami, Kawakami, and Sullivan (2010), all children develop self-conscious emotions with the development of specific cognitive processes. It is estimated that the development of the self-conscious emotions has been found to happen between 15 and 20 months of age and this includes the expression of embarrassment, pride, and shame as a child begins to learn the goals and standards of their culture (Lewis et al., 2010). In the west, exposure embarrassment, which is an early form of self-consciousness, emerges immediately after the attainment of cognitive representation while pride and shame emotions, as well as self-evaluative behavior, become evident in failure and success by the age of three years. Lewis and Ramsay (as cited in Lewis et al., 2010) argue that failure and success of children, at the age of four, on simple tasks serve as valid contexts in which self-evaluative expressions are elicited. However, when self-evaluation expressions emerge during the same age in Japanese children, the expression of self-evaluation is different which is a reflection of the variations in the socialization of achievement values.

Cultural differences are also evident as demonstrated by children from the East Asia whereby the children show a higher perseverance to pain in infancy, hardly cry and take a short time to quite (Lewis et al., 2010). This difference in the reaction of children from different cultural backgrounds is a clear suggestion of the temperament differences that exist among children from different social groups. The emotion socialization displayed by the Japanese children compared to those from the West indicates differences in emotion expression and reactivity which ultimately affect a childs ability to express their self-conscious emotions. Lewis et al. (2010) maintain that in Japanese culture, emotions deviate from the self while emphasizing an individuals relationship with others. Stressing a relationship with others implies that anxiety and shame are deemed as negative emotions in Japanese culture. This is supported by Kitayama and Markus (as cited in Lewis et al., 2010) who state that in Japan, children are encouraged to socialize to help them cope with shame. Lewis et al. (2010) add that the emotion socialization among Japanese children stresses a we-self while the western societies emphasize the I-self which further depicts differences in cultures when it comes to children emotion socialization.

Louie, Oh, and Lau, (2013) also highlight the relationship between cultural differences and emotion socialization among children. According to these authors, emotion socialization varies from one culture to another and can be considered according to the emphasis given to individualism and collectivism. Individualism can be found in North American societies where the focus is on the significance of individual dispositions and inner states such as interests, desires, and needs (Louie et al., 2013). Therefore, in such cultures, it is appropriate for an individual to express their emotion states. Again, Louie et al. (2013), give East Asian cultures as an example of collectivistic groups. According to Markus and Kitayama (as cited in Louie et al., 2013), in such contexts, interconnection with others is paramount while the maintenance of interpersonal harmony is seen as a central value. For there to be harmony, people must exercise emotional restraint as in many instances, personal feelings may result in unnecessary conflicts. Children are expected to learn and conform to their cultural norms in relation to emotion control. This is in accordance with the findings of Chen (as cited in Louie et al., 2013) that in some cultures, such as the Chinese, mothers are known to encourage their children to learn how to control strong emotions in contrast to their European American counterparts. Thus, cultural differences can be said to directly influence the way children express their emotions and socialize. Further, from this, it can also be deduced that parents play a fundamental psychological role in relation to their childrens emotional control and expression.

Further, Louie et al. (2013) state that control of emotional expression is not among the key goals of socialization in European American culture. However, these authors agree that emotional expression control may occur under some circumstances such as that of a deviant child in the social group. In the contrary, in East Asian cultures, emotion expression control is a key socialization goal and goes along with cultivating sensitivity to others (Louie et al., 2013). Unlike in American cultures, parents in the Chinese culture ensure that their children have control over impulses and emotions by the age of 2 years. In the American culture, this is expected to happen at a much later age. Psychological and behavioral control among children can be achieved through several ways such as shaming which helps a child relate to the consequences of misbehaving, discouraging self-promotion as well as reinforcing humility (Louie et al., 2013).

Cultural differences related to emotion socialization among children are also evident in the work of TheinLemelson (2015) in which the author mainly compares two cultural settings namely that in Burma (Myanmar) and the United States. According to TheinLemelson (2015), grooming of childrens behavior by caregivers is taken seriously in Burma as compared to the situation in the U.S. whereby Burmese children experience grooming practices more often than their counterparts in the United States. In line with this, Markus and Kitayama (as cited in TheinLemelson, 2015) describe the culture in the United States as a value system that emphasizes self-reliance and independence. It then follows that children in the U.S are expected to learn and perform these activities at an earlier age, and on their own. TheinLemelson (2015) acknowledges that culture plays a key role in the shaping of activities and behavior of children. This could be interpreted to explain the difference in behavior and emotion response between children from different cultures as each culture has its own values related to the level of independence that is expected at different stages of a childs development.

According to the findings of Thein (as cited in TheinLemelson, 2015), Burmese culture hypercognizes caregiving sentiments and emotions which implies that the socialization of children in this culture is geared towards encouraging a sense of responsibility for others who are smaller and weaker. This is supported by Spiro (as cited in TheinLemelson, 2015) who observed that personality structure of Burmese has dependency as a salient feature. However, while dependency is highly valued among the Burmese, in the Japanese culture, it is deemed as a negative characteristic (TheinLemelson, 2015). From this, one can expect children from the two cultures to have different emotion socialization characteristics due to the differences in value for a given characteristic, in this case, dependency. Similarly, differences would be expected between Burmese children and those from the United States in the latter, the society highly values independence, personal choice, and self-reliance.

In conclusion, as demonstrated herein, there are various cultural differences that are related to emotion socialization among children. Evidence from the literature review underpins the fact that the cultural background of a child has a strong influence on the childs emotional development and expression. It for this reason that East Asian children would differ in emotion expression with their equals from the West. Further, the works done by various scholars in this area have demonstrated that emotion socialization among children is highly sensitive to cultural differences.



Lewis, M., Takai-Kawakami, K., Kawakami, K., & Sullivan, M. W. (2010). Cultural differences in emotional responses to success and failure. International journal of behavioral development, 34(1), 53-61.

Louie, J. Y., Oh, B. J., & Lau, A. S. (2013). Cultural differences in the links between parental control and childrens emotional expressivity. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19(4), 424.

TheinLemelson, S. M. (2015). Grooming and cultural socialization: A mixed method study of caregiving practices in Burma (Myanmar) and the United States. International Journal of Psychology, 50(1), 37-46.


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