Culture and Brain

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 105–124 | Cite as

Cultural differences in perceiving and processing emotions: a holistic approach to person perception

  • R. Thora BjornsdottirEmail author
  • Konstantin O. Tskhay
  • Keiko Ishii
  • Nicholas O. Rule
Original Research Article


East Asians tend towards holistic styles of thinking whereas Westerners generally think more analytically. Recent work has shown that Western participants perceive emotional expressions in a somewhat holistic manner, however. Specifically, Westerners interpret emotional facial expressions differently when presented with a body displaying a congruent versus incongruent emotional expression. Here, we examined how processing these face-body combinations varies according to cultural differences in thinking style. Consistent with their proclivity towards contextual focus, Japanese perceivers focused more on the body when judging the emotions of face-body composites. Moreover, in line with their greater tendency towards holistic perceptual processing, we found that pairing facial expressions of emotion with emotionally congruent bodies facilitated Japanese participants’ recognition of faces’ emotions to a greater degree than it did for Canadians. Similarly, incongruent face-body combinations impaired facial emotion recognition more for Japanese than Canadian participants. These findings extend work on cultural differences in emotion recognition from interpersonal to intrapersonal contexts with implications for intercultural understanding.


Person perception Emotion recognition Holistic thinking Culture 

Supplementary material

40167_2017_53_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (225 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 225 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Thora Bjornsdottir
    • 1
    Email author
  • Konstantin O. Tskhay
    • 1
  • Keiko Ishii
    • 2
  • Nicholas O. Rule
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Kobe UniversityKobeJapan

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