According to a new study, certain cultures actually make people feel worse about feeling bad. Researchers at the University of Queensland, the University of Leuven, the University of Melbourne, and Kyoto University, collaborated to determine if society can exacerbate negative feelings. “We argue that when people believe that others expect them not to feel certain kinds of emotion, this perceived social pressure leads them to experience those unwanted emotions more frequently and more intensely,” said the team. “Specifically, we focus on the belief that others expect us not to feel negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety.”
The authors noted that popular culture and television in particular, stress the importance of happiness. “Meanwhile, commonplace emotional experiences such as sadness, depression, or anxiety are pathologized and medicalized, viewed as deviant from the desired norm,” they said. In four separate studies, involving participants from Australia and Eastern Asia, the researchers discovered that people from Western cultures experience an increase in negative feelings when they feel bad. “However, the importance placed on happiness and the devaluation of sadness is not as apparent in Asian cultures,” said the researchers. “In Japan, acceptance, emotional balance, and even hardship are highly valued, and the pursuit of happiness often has ‘immoral’ connotations.” The study looked at personal and social expectancies, focusing on both positive and negative emotions. They said, “Across four studies, we found evidence that perceived social expectations not to feel negative emotions are associated with more negative emotion and lower well-being.”
The researchers believe their findings are important for overall mental health and sense of life satisfaction. They said, “This finding highlights the potentially harmful effects of perceived social expectations for emotional experience. When social norms place pressure on people not to experience negative emotion, people react to these perceived norms with increased negative emotional responding.” They concluded by saying, “Our work shows that the more people hold beliefs that others expect them not to experience negative emotions, the more frequently and intensely they are likely to experience those negative emotions. Such ironic effects also relate to indicators of well-being, such as satisfaction with life and depression.”
Bastian, B., Kuppens, P., Hornsey, M. J., Park, J., Koval, P., & Uchida, Y. (2011, July 25). Feeling Bad About Being Sad: The Role of Social Expectancies in Amplifying Negative Mood. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024755
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