British and American people are 'less emotionally aware': New study reveals the nations that can deal with multiple feelings - and Asia and Russia top the table

by Cheyenne MacDonald, Daily Mail

If a single event can send you into a spiral of conflicting feelings, don't be quick to brush it off as indecision; you might just be emotionally complex.

A recent study from the University of Waterloo examined emotional complexity around the world, and found that the ability to distinguish between multiple feelings at once is strongly tied to cultural orientation.

In cultures that place greater emphasis on factors outside of the individual self, like family or duty, people are more able to differentiate between their varying emotions – and regardless of location, doing so could make for a more balanced, emotionally rich life.

Emotional complexity can be defined in two ways, according to The Atlantic – 'emotional dialecticism,' the simultaneous experience of positive and negative emotions, and 'emotional differentiation' the ability to identify the distinct emotions being felt.

Through three studies, Igor Grossmann and Alex Huynh of the University of Waterloo, and Phoebe Ellsworth of the University of Michigan tracked the prevalence of mixed emotions, and the ways that people experience them.

Depending on cultural location, the researchers found that the experience of emotional complexity can vary greatly. And, they say having mixed emotions can be beneficial to daily life.

'People in many western countries see mixed feelings as undesirable – as if to suggest that someone experiencing mixed feelings is wishy-washy,' said Igor Grossmann, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, and lead author of the paper.

'Actually, we found that both westerners and non-westerners who show mixed feelings are better able to differentiate their emotions and experience their lives in an emotionally rich and balanced fashion.'

Researchers examined the variations of these traits across 16 cultures around the world.

The team used a text-analysis tool to measure emotional expressions across 1.3 million English-language websites and blogs, and tracked the reports of emotional experiences across daily activities.

They then examined how these feelings were described, looking to see if people indicated mixed feelings, and if they differentiated between the different types of positive and negative emotions.

In self-oriented cultures, like Canada, the United States, Australia, and Great Britain, the researchers found that people are less emotionally complex, whereas cultures that are 'other-oriented' – with emphasis on duty and familial bonds – like Asia and Russia can be much more complex.

Western Europe and South Africa landed in the middle.

'People in those other-oriented cultures are more likely to experience emotional complexity because they are able to see different perspectives,' said Grossmann.

'For example, they might see a job loss as disappointing, but also as an exciting opportunity to spend more time with family or to try something new. Someone from a culture that is oriented towards personal achievement is more likely to see it as all negative.'

On both the cultural and individual levels, the researchers found that focusing on others indicates a higher level of emotional complexity.

'Across the entire project, the degree to which a culture promotes focus on other people rather than the self, including greater awareness of others, was positively associated with all of the markers of emotional complexity,' said Grossmann.

'Further, when we looked at individuals who focus on others within each culture, they also showed greater emotional complexity on a personal level.'

The team suggests further research be done on the concept, to examine how social interdependence can improve emotional complexity.

Photo courtesy of Alamy

Read the article: MacDonald, C. (2016, January 26). British and American people are 'less emotionally aware': New study reveals the nations that can deal with multiple feelings - and Asia and Russia top the table. Daily Mail. Retrieved from

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