Culture and the categorization of emotions

Psychol Bull. 1991 Nov;110(3):426-50. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.110.3.426.


Some writers assume--and others deny--that all human beings distinguish emotions from nonemotions and divide the emotions into happiness, anger, fear, and so on. A review of ethnographic and cross-cultural studies on (a) emotion lexicons, (b) the emotions inferred from facial expressions, and (c) dimensions implicit in comparative judgments of emotions indicated both similarities and differences in how the emotions are categorized in different languages and cultures. Five hypotheses are reviewed: (a) Basic categories of emotion are pancultural, subordinate categories culture specific; (b) emotional focal points are pancultural, boundaries culture specific; (c) emotion categories evolved from a single primitive category of physiological arousal; (d) most emotion categories are culture specific but can be defined by pancultural semantic primitives; and (e) an emotion category is a script with both culture-specific and pancultural components.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Nonverbal Communication