While there are aspects of emotion that are universal or innate to human beings, there are other aspects that differ with regards to gender and culture. We will also look at impression management and self-presentation, including a reference to the dramaturgical perspective of the front stage and back stage self. This article will also cover verbal and non-verbal communication in humans, as well as the types of interactions and modes of communication that occur between animals.

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The Role of Gender in the Expression and Detection of Emotion

Studies indicate that there are differences in an individual’s expression and detection of emotion based on their gender. In general, women experience emotion at a more intense level than men. Their expression of emotion is more intense and conveyed more openly than men. A study by Kring & Gordon (1998) demonstrated that there were differences in autonomic arousal and emotional expression between men and women while they were watching emotional films.

With regards to detection of emotion, women are able to read emotions better than men, including facial expressions and non-verbal cues.

It is not clear why there are differences in emotional experiences between men and women. It has been suggested that they may be a reflection of the historical roles of men and women. Men have had the role of needing to compete and fight, and therefore, soft emotions are avoided to prevent displaying any weakness. Women traditionally have the role of being the nurturer and caretaker. As such, women tend to be associated with emotions such as love, warmth, happiness and sympathy. These associations are also similar to an evolutionary perspective. It would not have been evolutionarily favorable if men were more emotional when they needed to fight, defend territory and compete for mates.

Another theory that is used to account for these gender differences may be related to upbringing. Studies have revealed that parents tend to discuss feelings a more with girls than they do with boys. In doing so, girls learn how to express their emotions. On the other hand, boys grow up learning that emotional weaknesses such as crying and feeling scared are not manly.

The Role of Culture in the Expression and Detection of Emotion

Culture is another important factor that shapes emotional experience. However, there are elements of emotional expression and recognition that are universal or innate. For example, cross-cultural studies have shown that there are six facial expressions that are universal to all cultures: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprize, and disgust.

At the same time, there are also differences with emotional expression between cultures. Display rules refer to the norms within a culture or subculture that relate to the appropriateness of emotional expression.

The meaning of emotional gestures differs between cultures. For example, the middle finger is considered “the rude finger” in many English-speaking countries such as the United States, England and Australia. However, Middle Eastern countries, the thumb, rather than the middle finger is considered to be rude.

Cultural variation also exists with regards to detection of emotion. In a study by Maksumoto & Ekman (1989), they found that there were differences in the interpretation of some facial expressions amongst people from Japan and North America. While there was a consensus in the detection of facial expressions displaying happiness, sadness and surprize, there were disagreements when it came to faces showing disgust, anger and fear.

People from different cultures also differ in their detection of emotion related to the tone of voice used. For example, in a study by Van Bezooijen, Otto & Heena, (1983), individuals from Taiwan were found to be better at recognizing voices with a sad tone, compared to Dutch individuals who were better are detecting happy voices.

Impression Management

Impression management refers to the strategies people employ in an attempt to form desired impressions about themselves, friends, ideas, or events to audiences. When referring to the control of information to create impressions about the self, it is called self-presentation.

As impressions influence how others perceive, judge and treat them, individuals may behave in ways that create certain impressions. How others perceive may also affect how people perceive themselves, contributing to the incentive to create our own impressions.

There are different strategies of impression management that individuals employ. These strategies can be broadly categorized into assertive and defensive strategies. Assertive strategies involve active behaviors carried out to shape impressions. While defensive strategies include behaviors such as avoidance.

Front Stage Versus Back Stage Self

The dramaturgical perspective, conceived by the American sociologist Erving Goffman, uses the metaphor of “life as theater” to map social interactions. The terms front stage and back stage refer to the manufactured social reality that individuals present to the observer. Just as an actor controls their performance on stage before an audience, it reflects an individual’s conscious decision to show certain aspects of the self and conceal other aspects.

The front stage reflects the role an individual plays and the impression he wants to create. Whereas the back stage is free from the norms and expectations that influence behavior in the front stage. As a result, we let our guards down and be our selves. It is also in the back stage that we prepare for the front stage.

Verbal and Non-verbal Communication

Verbal communication occurs between people using language, which can be oral or written. Language is guided by syntactic rules and also by rules of conversation. Words may be spoken, signed or written. Therefore, the verbal mode of communication may involve acoustic, visual and tactile channels.

Verbal communication is what sets humans apart from other animals. The communicative functions of language include a referential function, which involves reference to external objects and events, and placing them in time and place; a social function, to establish a communication channel, ensure it works and that people are on good terms with each other; and an affective function, which involves expressing inner emotions without necessarily addressing a listener.

Humans are also able to communicate without the use of words with nonverbal communication, which is an important means of sharing information. Non-verbal communication relies on a variety of unspoken cues and signals including facial expressions, gestures, body language, posture, touch, physical distance, intonation and non-verbal vocalizations such as sighing.

Non-verbal communication serves as expressions of emotions and attitudes. Many expressions are used to form and maintain social bonds, such as smiling, and to demonstrate a synchrony in the interaction, by mirroring the expressions of others. Non-verbal communication plays a more important role in cooperation than do verbal expressions. Non-verbal expressions are also important during a normal conversation. While a person is talking using words and sentences, their tone of voice, gaze, facial expressions and gestures also convey relevant information.

Apart from social and affective functions, non-verbal communication has an important referential function too, such as when you direct someone’s attention to another object or event, by pointing, for example.

Animal Signals and Communication

Animal communication refers to the sharing of information between individuals. There are a number of modes of communication that animals use. Different types of signals are necessary for optimal communication of different messages in different environments.

Major communication modes amongst animals include chemical signals, tactile signals, audible signals, and visual signals

Chemical signals

Chemical signals are those that are relayed by smell and taste, and are used by many animals. Chemical signals are particularly useful in dark environments, when visual or audible signals are less reliable. A pheromone is a chemical signal that is produced to transmit information within a species. 

Pheromones are molecules that contain carbon chain backbones. These molecules mainly differ in size (molecular weight) and polarity, which determines their function. Airborne pheromones are usually smaller, such as a moth sex attractant. Pheromones that linger in the environment tend to be bigger and more polar, like a scent that serves to mark a territory. This is because more energy is required to evaporate higher molecular weight molecules, while polarity enables molecules to stick to one another.

Tactile signals

Tactile signals refer to touching as a means of communication. This is especially useful in situations when animals are close together, and also when light is not available. It is also helpful when noise impedes sounds or might lure predators. However, the need for proximity serves as a limitation, making tactile signals not useful for distant communication or in the presence of obstacles.

Tactile signals play an important role in affiliative behaviors in mammal groups. As well as its role in social and emotional interactions, touch is an aspect of aggressive behaviors. Tactile signals also function to convey information about the proximity of environmental features such as food and predators.

Audible signals

Audible signals are effective in dark environments. The distance an audible signal can travel varies depending on the medium and the wavelength of the sound. The ability to make a material vibrate influences how an animal can use vibrations to communicate. For example, an elephant is a very large animal and able to use the ground as a medium to transmit sound, because of its ability to make the soil vibrate.

Most animals have special structures in their bodies that they use to make sound. Some create sound by slapping, drumming or tapping a resonant substrate. 

Visual signals

Visual signals are conveyed very quickly, at the speed of light. Light availability greatly aids visual signals. As well as air, light moves through water. However, with water, increasing depth leads to less light availability as water absorbs light. Water also absorbs red, yellow and orange wavelengths, so that these colors are not useful with increased depth.

There are different types of visual signals amongst animals, including:

  • patterns and color on the surfaces of animals (e.g. the colorfulness of reef fish is used to promote their dominance and sexual status)
  • movement (e.g. fiddler crabs waving their large signaling claws in the air)
  • light production (e.g. fireflies, deep-sea animals)

Visual signals may be combined, such as when a peacock spreads out its tail to display the vivid pattern and color of its feathers, to signal to peahens.

Review Questions

The correct answers can be found below the references.

1. In the dramaturgical perspective, what does the back stage refer to?

  1. Where we keep our emotions repressed.
  2. Where we play a role to present an impression of ourselves.
  3. Where we can let our guards down and be ourselves.
  4. Where we get dressed for the front stage.
  5. Where actors audition for the front stage.

2. What are pheromones?

  1. Pheromones are hormones that drive sexual development.
  2. Pheromones are released on in animals that are nocturnal.
  3. Pheromones are natural molecules that contribute to visual signals in animals.
  4. Pheromones are molecules that act as chemical signals of communication.
  5. Pheromones are natural molecules that do not linger in the environment.

3. Which of the following is not an example of non-verbal communication?

  1. Writing the word yes on paper.
  2. Nodding your head.
  3. Showing a look of disgust on your face.
  4. Smiling during a conversation.
  5. Using eye contact during a conversation.
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