Emotional Expressivity, Emotion Regulation, and Mood in College Students: A Cross-Ethnic Study
Lu, Wei, Wang, Zhenhong, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal
Emotions help us respond adaptively to environmental challenges and opportunities (Frijda, 1988). Emotional expressivity, emotion regulation, and mood, which are three important domains of an individual's emotion system and the core aspects of personality, may affect an individual's social adaptation and mental health.
Emotional expressivity refers to the behavioral (e.g., facial, postural) changes that typically accompany emotion, such as smiling, frowning, crying, or storming out of the room (Gross & John, 1995). Gross and John found that three facets namely, positive expressivity, negative expressivity, and impulse strength (conceptualized as the strength of the emotional impulses) consistently emerge in both self-reports and peer ratings of expressivity. "Unmistakable individual differences in expressivity suggest that people differ in the emotional tendencies they have. These differences are important to understand because they influence a wide range of intra- and interpersonal processes" (Gross & John, 1995, p. 555). Researchers have confirmed that individuals with more emotional expressivity are usually happier and feel less anxious and guilty. Frequently expressing anger, however, will consume an individual's subjective well-being, social relationships, and physical health (Kring, Smith, & Neale, 1994). It has also been confirmed in previous studies that men are less emotionally expressive than women. Women have been found to express emotions such as shame, fear, and sadness more often than men, and to report higher levels of sadness and depression (Kring et al., 1994).
Emotion regulation refers to individuals using a wide range of strategies to exert considerable control over, and to influence, their emotions, and determine when they have them (Gross & John, 1998). According to his process model of emotion regulation, Gross (1999) suggested five regulation strategies: situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change, and response modulation. He names reappraisal and suppression as two basic strategies to regulate negative emotions. Based on Gross' views of emotional regulation Huang and Guo (2001a, 2001b) distinguished four types of emotional regulation strategies in Chinese culture. These authors found that when people experienced positive emotion, males used more denial and inhibition strategies, and females used more attention and amplification strategies (Huang & Guo, 2001a). Effectively regulating emotion will be beneficial to one's social relationships, social adaptation, and psychological health. Researchers have shown that individuals who use cognitive reappraisal strategies usually have a higher level of self-approval and subjective well-being (Wang, Zhang, Li, & Liu, 2007). Conversely, inappropriate emotion regulation strategies may increase negative effects and harm mental health. In addition, using inhibition as a regulation strategy may increase the risk of cancer and accelerate cancer progression (Campbell-Sills & Barlow, 2007).
Moods are defined as transient episodes of feeling or affect. Affect comprises two higher order factors, known as positive affect and negative affect, which reflect the central organizing role of valence in self-rated affect (Clark & Watson, 1988). That is, the emergence of a general positive or negative affect factor indicates positive or negative mood ratings. Researchers have shown that girls often experience lower positive mood, are more concerned with their appearance, and have more self-deprecatory notions than boys (Watson & Walker, 1996).
Moods particularly relate to emotion regulation, personality, and health. Positive mood is positively correlated with extraversion. Negative mood is positively correlated with anxiety, neuroses, and a wide range of psychological diseases (Clark & Watson, 1988) and also related to inappropriate emotion regulation (Wang et al., 2007).
To date, in most empirical research focused on emotional expressivity, emotion regulation, and mood of college students it has been indicated that there are significant gender differences concerning emotional expressivity (Deng & Zheng, 2003, 2004), significant grade level and age differences concerning emotion regulation (Gross & John, 2003; Huang & Guo, 2001a, 2001b), and significant gender and grade level differences concerning mood (Chi & Lin, 2004; Yang, Fu, Yin, & Chen, 2006). These studies however, are relatively fragmented and conclusions drawn need further empirical support. The aim in these studies was primarily to evaluate the emotional characteristics of university students as a whole, rather than focus on particular ethnic groups, such as a comparison between Han and ethnic groups. Our focus was on determining whether emotion varies with different ethnic backgrounds. According to cultural psychology, aspects of emotion are not equally distributed across ethnic and cultural communities, because culture-specific or ethnic-specific beliefs and practices such as how emotions are valued and elicited shape individuals' emotional aspects. It is the differences in emotion across cultures that are of interest. Several vital factors contribute to ethnic-specific emotional characteristics. One factor is mainly caused by display rules that affect both emotional expressivity and emotion regulation. The focus in research on expressivity across cultures has been on the general tendency to be free versus constrained in one's outward emotionality: One culture may be less expressive than another (Gross & John, 1995). Also, in many cultures, display rules favor the expression of positive over negative emotion (Wallbott & Scherer, 1989). Display rules are culturally informed guides about which facial expressions and other emotional displays for a specific emotion are allowed, suppressed, or exaggerated in a given situation (Matsumoto, Yoo, Hirayama, & Petrova, 2005). Thus, they are conceptualized as a mechanism that explains emotion expression management.
Another main factor suggested by Bai (2006) is that ethnic minority students experience culture shock in a college where, for example, the vast majority of students are Han. Ethnic minority students need to deal with acculturation as well as the adaptation issues that all college students face, such as adapting to the environment change of living and learning, and smoothing interpersonal relationships. Culture shock is a particular challenge to the nondominant cultural groups who are trying to learn and achieve in the dominant language while simultaneously dealing with issues such as building a sense of ethnic identity, assimilating to a dominant culture, relating to peers, and adapting to new role relations (Lynch, 1992). If ethnic minority students are unable to relate to peers or adapt to new role relations, they are likely to experience mental health concerns such as alienation, withdrawal, aggression, anxiety (Lynch, 1992), and low self-esteem and physical illness (Morrow, 1994) as they adjust to the dominant cultural setting. Other influential factors such as religious traditions may also shape specific ethnic models of emotion (Lu, 2001).
Given the limited amount of empirical research in the area of ethnicity concerning emotional expressivity, emotion regulation, and mood, we aim to ameliorate this research scarcity by examining emotional differences among the four main ethnicities in the northwest of China, and Han college students. The term ethnicity is most often used to refer to a group of people who have a distinct culture, shared historical identity, or a national or religious identity (Carter, 1995). According to Yancey, Aneshensel, and Driscoll (2001), ethnicity distinguishes individuals based on their membership in groups with common social, cultural, and historical heritage. On the basis of these definitions and for the purpose of this study, we use ethnicity to refer to individuals who are identified as Tibetan Chinese, Hui Chinese, Mongolian Chinese, and Uighur Chinese. In this study, we address the following hypotheses: (1) There will be significant ethnic differences in emotional expressivity, emotion regulation, and mood. (2) There will be some gender and grade level differences in these emotional aspects.
The participants were 370 (48% female and 52% male) college students of whom 29% were freshmen, 26% sophomores, 24% juniors, and 21% seniors, from Shaanxi Normal University, Xi Dian University, and Xi'an Physical Education University. The identities of more than half of the participants were ethnic minority students including Hui (15%), Uighur (14%), Mongolia (14%), and Tibetan (17%), with the rest identifying with the dominant Han nationality (40%).
Emotional Expressivity Scale (EES). We used the Emotional Assessment Questionnaire of Secondary School Students (Wang, Zhang, Liu, & Lu, 2008), a questionnaire with 27 items adapted from the Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire (Gross & John, 1995) for use in the Chinese cultural setting. Each item was responded to on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Items representing the strength of the emotional impulse included statements such as "I have strong emotions". Items representing overt expression of the emotional impulse included items that were written to assess the expression of discrete emotions including amusement, happiness, anger, fear, and sadness, for example, "When I'm happy, my feelings show", as well as two items that were written as general markers of positive and negative emotionality, for example, "Whenever I feel negative emotions, people can easily see exactly what I am feeling". (All items as used in Gross and John, 1995. For original explanation see Gross and John, p. 555.) Factor analysis was carried out using a principal components analysis that yielded three factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, conjointly accounting for 54.86% of the total variance. Promax rotation was applied to obtain three oblique factors. Factor loadings of items on the subscale of positive emotional expressivity ranged from .47 to .76; factor loadings of items on the subscale of negative emotional expressivity ranged from .41 to .68; and factor loadings of items on the subscale of impulse strength ranged from .51 to .73. Cronbach's alphas on the three subscales were .84, .79, and .81, respectively.
Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERG). This included 24 items that were used to assess emotion regulation strategies (Huang & Guo, 2001b). The scale consisted of four subscales: attention, inhibition, amplification, and denial. The subscales each included six items, and each item was responded to on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (occasionally or not) to 4 (always). Sample items included "When I feel disgusted, I do not want to let people know" and "When I feel happy, I will dance". A high score reflected better recognition and management of emotions. Factor analysis was carried out using a principal components analysis that yielded four factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, conjointly accounting for 50.1% of the total variance. Promax rotation was applied to obtain four oblique factors. Factor loadings of items on the subscale of attention ranged from .42 to .61; factor loadings of items on the subscale of inhibition ranged from .53 to .72; factor loadings of items on the subscale of amplification ranged from .55 to .75; and factor loadings of items on the subscale of denial ranged from .64 to .85. Cronbach's alphas on the four subscales were .75, .81, .72, and .79, respectively.
Mood Scale. This was the Chinese revised edition (Huang, Yang, & Ji, 2003) of the original Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they had experienced a range of emotions throughout the day. Ratings were made on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (very slightly or not at all) to 5 (extremely). The scale consisted of 10 items from the negative activation subscale (afraid, ashamed, distressed, guilty, hostile, irritable, jittery, nervous, scared, and upset) and 10 items from the positive activation subscale (active, alert, attentive, determined, enthusiastic, excited, inspired, interested, proud, and strong). The construct validity of the Chinese version of PANAS is as sound as the original with factor loadings of items on the subscale of positive affect ranging from .40 to .76, and factor loadings of items on the subscale of negative affect ranging from .45 to .75 (Huang et al., 2003). Factor analysis was carried out using a principal components analysis that yielded two factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, conjointly accounting for 50.94% of the total variance. Two orthogonal factors emerged after varimax rotation. Factor loadings of items on the subscale of positive affect ranged from .50 to .84, and factor loadings of items on the subscale of negative affect ranged from .48 to .74. Cronbach's alphas on the two subscales were .78 and .80, respectively.
The study sample was selected on a voluntary basis from classroom groups that varied in size. Participants were asked to complete a brief demographic questionnaire that included sex, grade level, and ethnic background questions. Standardized measures, as previously described, including the EES, ERQ, and Mood Scale were completed by participants in a randomly determined order as a control for order effects. Bilingual research assistants, who were familiar with the instruments, administered the battery of assessments during several mass administrations and were available to answer any questions about the items. Anonymity of participants' responses was ensured. Participants took approximately 20-30 minutes to complete the measures.
A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed to determine if gender, grade level, and ethnicity produced some main or interaction effects across the three emotional expressivity dependent variables (positive expressivity, negative expressivity, and impulse strength). The means and standard deviations of all the variables are presented in Table 1. Ethnicity had no effect in terms of positive expressivity and impulse strength scores, but it had a significant main effect on negative expressivity F(4, 365) = 3.06, p < .05 (see Table 1). There was neither a significant main effect for gender and grade level, nor any interaction among gender, grade level, and ethnicity.
Post hoc multiple comparison was conducted to determine the effect of ethnicity on negative emotional expressivity. The analyses revealed significant differences between Tibetan college students in contrast to Hui, Uighur, Mongolian, and Han college students (p < .05), with Tibetan college students reporting a higher level of negative emotional expressivity than their counterparts.
A MANOVA was performed to determine if gender, grade level, and ethnicity produced some main or interaction effects across the four emotion regulation strategy dependent variables (denial, inhibition, attention, and amplification). The means and standard deviations of all the variables are presented in Table 2. There was a significant main effect of ethnicity on denial, F(4, 365) = 105.72, p < .001; inhibition, F(4, 365) = 75.02, p < .001; attention, F(4, 365) = 61.77, p < .001; and amplification F(4, 365) = 49.67, p < .001 (see Table 2). There was neither a significant main effect for gender and grade level, nor any interaction among gender, grade level, and ethnicity.
Post hoc multiple comparison was conducted to determine the effect of ethnicity on denial, inhibition, attention, and amplification. The analyses revealed significant differences between Han college students in contrast to Tibetan, Hui, Uighur, and Mongolian college students (p < .001), with Han college students reporting a higher level of emotion regulation than ethnic groups.
Univariate ANOVA was performed to determine if gender, grade levels, and ethnicity produced some main or interaction effects on positive mood and negative mood dependent variables separately. The means and standard deviations of all the variables are presented in Table 3. There was a significant main effect of gender on positive mood, F(1, 365) = 19.76, p < .001, with males reporting greater positive mood than females. Gender had no effect in terms of negative mood. Ethnicity had no effect on positive mood, but it had a significant main effect on negative mood F(4, 365) = 10.02, p < .001, (see Table 3). There was neither a significant main effect for grade level, nor any interaction among gender, grade level, and ethnicity.
Post hoc multiple comparison was conducted to determine the effect of ethnicity on negative mood. The analyses revealed significant differences between Hui, Uighur, Mongolian, and Tibetan students in contrast to Han students (p < .001), with Hui, Uygur, Mongolian, and Tibetan students reporting a higher level of negative mood than Han students, and Tibetan students reporting a greater level of negative mood than Uygur, and Mongolian students.
As we hypothesized, the preliminary findings indicated that there were some negative emotional expressivity differences across ethnic groups that warranted further discussion. Tibetan college students were found to have a higher level of negative emotional expressivity in contrast to their Han, Uighur, Hui, and Mongolian counterparts. Ekman (1972) asserts that display rules represent cultural and group norms governing how and when one should express particular emotions. The focus in previous research on expressivity across cultures has been on the general tendency to be free versus constrained in one's outward emotionality: One culture may be less expressive than another (Gross & John, 1995). Also, in many cultures, display rules favor the expression of positive over negative emotion (Wallbott & Scherer, 1989). Moreover, researchers have also shown that religious traditions may shape specific ethnic models of emotion (Lu, 2001). Together, the results of these studies indicate that different cultural display rules and religious traditions may both contribute to ethnic-specific emotional expressivity tendencies. More specifically, as Tibetan culture, compared to other ethnic cultures, allows individuals to express negative emotion more freely, so Tibetan students report a higher level of negative emotional expressivity.
Significant ethnic group differences were also found in emotion regulation. The results showed that Han college students reported a higher level of emotion regulation (attention, denial, amplification, and inhibition) than ethnic minority students. It is emphasized in many cultures that individuals should be socialized to know and enact display rules for different emotions in different situations (Matsumoto et al., 2005). These findings indicate that different cultural display rules may contribute to ethnic-specific emotion regulation tendencies. The teachings of Confucianism, the main culture in China, encourage individuals to learn display rules when they are children, because effectively regulating emotions will be beneficial to their international personal relationships and social adaptation. Thus, Han college students are more likely to adopt various emotion regulation strategies when managing their emotions. Conversely, Chinese ethnic cultures may not emphasize the importance of learning display rules. As ethnic minority students do not care about mastering necessary emotion regulation strategies, this usually results in their maladjustment in the dominant cultural settings (Lynch, 1992).
In addition, the results indicated that males reported a significantly higher level of positive mood than females. This finding is consistent with that of prior research in which is has been shown that females often experience lower positive mood, are more concerned with their appearance, and have more self-depreciatory notions than males (Watson & Walker, 1996). Men experience more positive and less negative emotion than women (Xin & Chi, 2001). When asked about the total frequency of affect in the past week, men reported a significantly more positive affect than women (Simon & Nath, 2004). These findings are consistent with Kemper's (1991) structural theory about emotion and gender. According to Kemper, structural factors such as individuals' status and power are two fundamental dimensions of social relationships that elicit specific emotions during social interaction. He claims that persons with higher status and more power in a relationship experience positive emotions such as happiness and security, whereas those with less power and lower status experience negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger. As men tend to have higher social status and power than women in China, male college students report more positive emotion than female students.
Our findings, consistent with those gained in previous research, also revealed that ethnic minority students had a significantly higher level of negative mood than Han college students. Bai (2006) suggested that ethnic minority students experience culture shock in a college where, for example, the vast majority of students are Han. Culture shock is a particular challenge to the nondominant cultural groups who are trying to learn and achieve in the dominant language (e.g., Mandarin) while simultaneously dealing with issues such as building a sense of ethnic identity, assimilating to a dominant culture, relating to peers, and adapting to new role relations (Lynch, 1992). Our results confirm that compared to Han students, ethnic minority students have greater difficulty in acclimating to university campuses because of their specific concerns, such as social alienation, concomitant lack of social support, and ethnic discrimination. Furthermore, researchers have demonstrated that as inappropriate emotion regulation may disrupt interpersonal relationships, this may increase negative emotion (Campbell-Sills & Barlow, 2007). Our results showed that ethnic minority college students adopted the fewest emotion regulation strategies compared to Han college students. An alternative explanation is that ethnic minority college students have insufficient inner resources to resolve emotional problems, and this may lead them to experience a higher level of negative mood.
Our results have provided a better understanding of emotional characteristics of different ethnic groups in China. Minority college students experience more negative emotion and are less likely than Han students to adopt emotion regulation strategies. Among these ethnic groups, Tibetan college students both express and experience more negative emotion than their counterparts. Therefore, we suggest that teachers should pay more attention to the emotional states of ethnic college students, especially Tibetan students, and encourage them to use effective emotion regulation strategies, in order to promote their emotional health and social adaptation.
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WEI LU AND ZHENHONG WANG
Shaanxi Normal University
Wei Lu and Zhenhong Wang, College of Psychology, Shaanxi Normal University. This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant 30970912, and National Social Science Foundation Grant BBA090030 awarded to Zhenhong Wang.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Zhenhong Wang, College of Psychology, Shaanxi Normal University, 199 South Chang'an Road, Xi'an 710062, People's Republic of China. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Table 1. Gender, Grade, and Ethnicity Differences of Emotional Expressivity Variable (n) Positive Negative Impulse expressivity expressivity strength M SD M SD M SD Male (177) 31.54 5.18 27.08 5.03 25.95 4.88 Female (193) 33.20 5.49 27.75 5.25 25.83 5.38 Freshman (106) 32.78 5.93 27.14 5.50 25.81 4.99 Sophomore (96) 32.57 5.02 27.80 4.96 26.04 5.52 Junior (89) 31.63 5.23 28.02 5.54 26.16 5.42 Senior (79) 32.56 5.33 26.91 4.37 25.51 4.57 Hui (57) 33.14 4.70 27.00 4.42 24.42 4.61 Uighur (51) 31.24 5.16 26.32 4.68 25.69 5.54 Mongolian (61) 31.97 5.89 27.20 5.95 25.36 4.64 Tibetan (53) 32.92 4.30 29.92 5.31 27.26 5.78 Han (148) 32.51 5.86 27.29 4.88 26.25 5.03 Table 2. Gender, Grade and Ethnicity Differences of Emotion Regulation Variable (n) Denial Inhibition M SD M SD Male (177) 10.86 3.50 10.40 3.37 Female (193) 10.08 3.59 9.36 3.22 Freshman (106) 10.60 3.58 9.89 3.40 Sophomore (96) 9.75 3.64 9.58 3.40 Junior (89) 10.72 3.22 9.97 3.10 Senior (79) 10.81 3.76 10.03 3.44 Hui (57) 8.23 2.24 7.75 2.17 Uighur (51) 8.69 1.72 8.37 2.16 Mongolian (61) 8.07 2.24 7.92 2.08 Tibetan (53) 8.09 1.89 7.96 1.97 Han (148) 13.75 2.70 12.66 2.85 Variable (n) Attention Amplification M SD M SD Male (177) 11.35 2.96 10.27 3.25 Female (193) 10.92 2.66 10.02 2.86 Freshman (106) 11.23 2.68 10.08 2.79 Sophomore (96) 11.09 3.12 10.04 3.14 Junior (89) 11.11 2.78 10.43 3.62 Senior (79) 11.05 2.67 10.00 2.64 Hui (57) 9.88 1.72 8.67 1.54 Uighur (51) 9.59 1.80 8.45 2.20 Mongolian (61) 9.36 2.15 8.59 2.08 Tibetan (53) 9.70 1.73 8.53 1.80 Han (148) 13.38 2.46 12.50 2.92 Table 3. Gender, Grade, and Ethnicity Differences of Mood Positive mood Negative mood Variable (n) M SD M SD Male (177) 30.47 6.35 21.02 5.74 Female (193) 27.46 5.94 20.25 5.36 Freshman (106) 29.16 6.28 19.97 5.47 Sophomore (96) 29.74 6.04 21.42 5.23 Junior (89) 27.54 6.75 20.65 5.95 Senior (79) 29.06 6.05 20.47 5.57 Hui (57) 28.68 6.44 21.81 5.81 Uighur (51) 29.73 5.90 21.08 4.76 Mongolian (61) 30.27 6.57 20.90 5.21 Tibetan (53) 28.11 5.55 23.60 5.45 Han (148) 28.41 6.45 18.81 5.30…
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Publication information: Article title: Emotional Expressivity, Emotion Regulation, and Mood in College Students: A Cross-Ethnic Study. Contributors: Lu, Wei - Author, Wang, Zhenhong - Author. Journal title: Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal. Volume: 40. Issue: 2 Publication date: March 2012. Page number: 319+. © 2009 Scientific Journal Publishers, Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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