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Culture lies at the heart of emotion. Emotions are primarily relational processes that shape and are shaped by our relations with other people. Social life is the stage on which our emotions acquire significance and meaning. Cultures vary with respect to the relational, interpersonal themes that are promoted in social life. Some cultures emphasize the importance of maintaining one's independence and autonomy in social relations. Social interactions in other cultures are centered around the avoidance of conflict and the maintenance of harmony. Yet, other cultures promote the protection of reputation and face as a central interpersonal concern. This diversity in relational concerns across cultures should influence emotional processes in important ways, from the situations that most commonly are the object of emotional experiences to the ways in which emotions are communicated to others.
In this chapter, we address the question of how culture shapes emotion. We present a theoretical approach that aims to “unpackage” the role of culture in emotion. One of the major challenges that the rapidly developing field of culture and emotion faces is quite simply how best to explain cultural variation in emotion. “Unpackaging” here refers to the importance of including measures of culture-related variables in (cross-) cultural studies on emotion. We believe that cultural variation in relational concerns is central to understanding and explaining cultural variation in emotion.
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