In individualistic societies, many adolescents go through a solipsistic phase, when they question whether other people really experience the world in the same way as they do. What often seems most in doubt during these musings is whether overt expressions genuinely correspond to deeper private feelings, or whether friends, family, and strangers in particular are simply going through the motions in a more calculated manner. This theme is frequently dramatized in popular books and films. For example, the extraterrestrial pod creatures in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are incapable of experiencing emotion but try to infiltrate North American society by becoming exact replicas of human beings in all other respects. They look like us, and even act like us in many ways, but something barely perceptible seems to be missing inside.
Attributing emotions to people from other cultures rather than aliens usually presents less severe problems. Once we get over our teenage egocentrism and ethnocentrism, we are usually quite ready to believe that a common core of affective experience is shared across humanity, despite dissimilarities in language and conventions of expression. Although we may be uncertain about how to read their emotions precisely, we are usually confident that people from very different societies can feel many of the same things that we do (even if they may sometimes lack our finer sentiments [see Leyens et al., 2000 and chapter 5, this volume]).
But is this confidence misplaced? Our conclusion in the previous chapter was that different cultures theorize and label emotions in quite different