Dr. Batja Mesquita
Culture & Emotions
Dr. Batja Mesquita, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Leuven in Belgium, makes it her career to understand how culture plays an essential role in the way we interpret, understand, and express emotions. This was especially salient within the first few minutes of our interactions prior to recording our discussion. She, being Dutch and having experienced American and Belgian cultures intimately, a writer, who has decades of successful psychological research under her belt. Me, Hungarian by birth but grew up in an American society, having lived abroad and traveled internationally frequently, a psychology student who's just beginning her psychology career. Two people, on seemingly vast poles of a cultural and life spectrum, were able to feel at ease and comfortable with each other within minutes. How can that be? Well, Dr. Mesquita has acquired tools that she's been able to hone over the past many years for which she can give thanks to these capabilities. First, coming to terms with the fact that each culture prizes and condemns members of their societies for the expression, or lack thereof, of certain emotions is a good start. Not blatantly, of course. But in a more subtle way that fosters a communal sense and understanding of the positive ways to behave and express emotions and, conversely, the ways that are not as emphasized.
During our discussion, we traverse the manners in which individualistic (e.g., American) and collectivist (e.g., Japanese) cultures have differences in these affective expressions or norms. Dr. Mesquita goes on to share that people in individualist cultures often are focused more on what she calls MINE emotions (i.e., inner feelings inside of yourself) and that people in collectivist cultures are often more focused on OURS emotions (i.e., everything that's outside), such as the interpersonal behaviors or the way other people receive the relational acts within those situations. So in that sense, one could say that emotions themselves are somewhat differently perceived between many individualistic and collectivist environments. This is where we really start making vast strides in our understanding of the difference that emotions possess within cultures.
"I've become increasingly convinved that emotions are very variabe about cultures."
Then, what next? I ask Dr. Mesquita how, with all of the knowledge that we have now acquired, do we navigate a world where we are all becoming more and more culturally diverse? She hints that most of her secrets will be shared in her book, but she teases us with a few in our discussion. Certainly, being cognizant of these differences is a major step in the right direction. And from there, we can focus on being sensitive to others' social norms hailing from contrasting ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. It's this psycho-education that is truly underlined and emphasized in Dr. Mesquita's work.
You may listen below to gain a deeper and broader insight into these topics and more.
(Recorded July 2023.)
Books by Dr. Mesquita