Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Emotional Expression and Control in School-Age Children in India and the United States

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Emotional Expression and Control in School-Age Children in India and the United States

Article excerpt

The present study compared 6- to 9-year-old children's reports of their decisions to express anger, sadness, and physical pain; methods of controlling and communicating felt emotion; and reasons for doing so in response to hypothetical situations across three groups: old-city India (n = 60), suburban India (n = 60), and suburban United States (n = 60). Both groups of Indian children were less likely to report expressing their anger, sadness, and pain than U.S. children, and were less likely to report direct verbal expression than U.S. children. Indian children reported a desire to maintain social norms as a reason to control anger and sadness more than U.S. children, whereas U.S. children reported a desire to communicate felt emotion as a reason to express all three feelings more than Indian children.

Children's ability to control the expression of their emotion is considered an important developmental and maturational milestone of early childhood (Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994). Between early and middle childhood, children's emotion regulation (ER) skills become much more sophisticated with increased awareness of the role of emotion communication in social relationships and further refinement of their skills for controlling emotions (Thompson & Meyer, 2007). Children's ability to control their emotions has significant implications for their social competence, peer relations, and psychological well-being across cultures (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2004; Zhou et al., 2008), whereas their inability to control their emotion in culturally appropriate ways is associated with adjustment difficulties and behavior problems (Cole et al., 1994).

Considerable research has examined ER practices in White middleclass children in the United States (Eisenberg et al., 2001). Current thinking suggests that the patterns found in this particular demographic are likely not universal and that preferred methods of emotion communication and control may be culturally bound (Matsumoto, 1990; Mesquita, 2007). In fact, systematic differences in individuals' self-systems from diverse cultures are theorized to influence individual ER processes (Kitayama, Mesquita, & Karasawa, 2006). Moreover, with increasing globalization, cultures are becoming heterogeneous, rendering the study of within-culture differences just as important as differences between cultures. This study compared children's reports of their decisions to express anger, sadness, or physical pain; the ways in which they control and communicate felt emotion; and their justification for doing so in two communities in India (old city and suburban) with a White middle-class group in the United States.

Cultural Differences in Emotional Expression and Control

Current literature highlights similarities across cultures with respect to recognition of basic emotions and situational antecedents of emotion (Matsumoto, 1990). However, cultures also vary in the ways in which people conceptualize emotions, define individual and group well-being, and control and communicate emotion. Culturally based conceptualizations of emotion shape everyday conversations about emotions between parents and children (Cole & Tan, 2007), and these conversations in turn are related to the development of prosocial skills and peer relations (Halberstadt, Denham, & Dunsmore, 2001).

Several scholars (e.g., Kagitçiba§i, 1996, 2005; Markus & Kitayama, 1991) have suggested that a cultural model of independence or autonomy is prevalent in Western cultures (e.g., the United States) that emphasizes individuals as autonomous entities. For these individuals, emotions are experienced and expressed as internal personal characteristics, and communication of emotions symbolizes an expression of individuality (Kitayama et al., 2006). Much like other aspects of communication, emotions are likely to be expressed in direct and explicit ways (Hall, 1976). Socialization practices in these families may encourage such explicit expression of emotion in children to help develop their individuality (Keller & Otto, 2009). …

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