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'Reading' Other People's Emotions Varies by Culture

Dutch pay more attention to facial expressions, while Japanese focus on tone of voice, study finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 21, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The way that people perceive others' emotions can vary by culture, a new study finds.

It found that Dutch people pay more attention to facial expressions while Japanese people focus on the tone of voice.

This makes sense if you examine the differences between the way Dutch and Japanese people communicate, said researcher Akihiro Tanaka, of the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study in Japan.

"I think Japanese people tend to hide their negative emotions by smiling, but it's more difficult to hide negative emotions in the voice," Tanaka said in an Association for Psychological Science news release.

This means that Japanese people may be more accustomed to listening for emotional cues in the voice. But this may lead to confusion when Japanese people interact with people from cultures who expect the voice tone and facial expressions to match.

For example, a Dutch person may see a Japanese person smiling and assume everything is fine, while failing to notice the upset tone in the Japanese person's voice.

"Our findings can contribute to better communication between different cultures," Tanaka said.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

To assess your knowledge of communication cues among different cultures, take the University of California at Santa Cruz's Exploring Non-Verbal Communication.

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Sept. 15, 2010.
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