The uncharted waters of emotion: ethnicity, trait emotion and emotion expression in older adults

J Cross Cult Gerontol. 2002;17(1):71-100. doi: 10.1023/a:1014838920556.


Emotions are central to contemporary theories of health, and a growing body of psychological research has shown emotion and emotion regulatory styles to be predictive of health outcomes. Yet despite these clear links and the fact that patterns of emotion and expression are partially a product of culture, there is a meager literature on the emotional characteristics of different ethnic groups. Even where ethnicity has been investigated in emotions research, it has typically been operationalized in such a way that within-group differences are obscured with most individuals assigned to broad ethnic categories, such as non-Hispanic White, or Black. In the present study we draw on data from a multi-ethnic sample of 755 community-dwelling older adults to parse a picture of the emotional characteristics of three of the largest and most culturally distinct ethnic groups in the Northeastern United States: African Americans, West Indians (Jamaicans), and Eastern Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians) from the former Soviet Republic, as well as a comparison group of US-born European Americans. As predicted, there were striking differences in nine of 10 trait emotions as well as in levels of emotion expressed during conflict. The findings are discussed in terms of emotion socialization and implications for prediction and intervention in psychosocial models of emotions, emotion regulation, and health in older ethnic populations.