Display rules

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Display rules are a social group's informal norms about when, where, and how one should express emotions.[1] They can be described as culturally prescribed rules that people learn early on in their lives by interactions and socializations with other people.[2]

Expressions of emotions vary to a great degree and hold significant meaning with great value of determining one's cultural and social identity. Display rules identify these expressions to a precise situation in a suitable context. Developmental research according to Matsumoto has revealed that display rules become differentiated with age and the presence of another individual has been shown to inhibit both posed and spontaneous expressions. Most of these expressions, whether posed or spontaneous, are adopted by the socially and cultured environment which they have derived. Matsumoto refers to display rules as values concerning the appropriateness of emotional displays that are communicated from one generation to the next.[3] However, display rules necessitate the integration not only of a dimension of expression appropriateness, but an evaluation of behavioral responses relative to appropriateness. This connotation examined reflects not exactly the disparity of display rules, but inherited distinction in the sense of an assortment of contexts and situations.

The understanding of display rules is a complex, multifaceted task. Display rules are understood differentially depending upon their mode of expression (verbal/facial) and the motivation for their use (prosocial/self-protective).[4] Display rules have become not only emotional expressivity, but guidelines that are culture specific, to be unified socially and in a conforming consensus to cultural norms. As the complexity of our society broadens so does our expressivity to an assortment of emotions, which have now become more learned then developed. A way of learning when and how to express or regulate certain emotions is based on cultural, gender, and social demands.


Culture assists in understanding emotional expressions and its influences in regards to similarities and differences. Culture, which is typically depicted by country, is accompanied by nation and territory as well. Matsumoto (1990) distinguishes culture as shared behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and values communicated from generation to generation via language or some other means.[3] Culture has a way in giving support to wishes, desires, and individual needs. Unique individuals within cultures acquire differences affecting displays of emotions emphasized by one's status, role, and diverse behaviors. These factors contribute to cultural variability and salient dimensions which capitalize the importance of developed displays of emotions. Highly stylized ways of expressing specific emotions are called ritualized displays. A notable example of a ritualized display is the "tongue bite," which is used to express embarrassment in Indian culture but held little emotional significance for U.S. college students in a 1999 study.[5] Cultural diversity fabricates divergence in the display of emotions to distinguish and maintain status which illustrates strains of expressivity. Though, from another perspective, it is extremely complex to eliminate the effects of one another. Another example of cultural differences in regard to display rules is evident through an experiment using Canadian, American, and Japanese University students. The results of the study showed that Japanese display rules allowed the expressions of strong emotions (either positive or negative) such as anger, contempt, disgust, happiness, or surprise far less than either American or Canadian display rules.[6] Evidently, display rules contain such a strong bond with situations and context that without one another there is no relevant value in a cross-cultural context.

Emotions and social influence[edit]

The socialization of emotional expressions can be categorized by many features pertaining to negative and positive effects. These effects can be processed by both explicit and implicit influences pertaining to affective and cognitive responses to certain feelings. Ekman and Friesen (1975) have suggested that unwritten codes or "display rules" govern the manner in which emotions may be expressed, and that different rules may be internalized as a function of an individual's culture, gender or family background.[7] For instance, many different cultures necessitate that particular emotions should be masked and that other emotions should be expressed drastically. Emotions are viewed as "bidirectional processes of establishing, maintaining, and/or disrupting significant relationships between an organism and the (external or internal) environment".[8] Likewise, emotions have significant consequences which are determined by interpersonal and communicational oppressions. This can have a dramatic effect on emotional expressions that can influence the founding of interpersonal relationships; as well, the social environment can influence whether one controls or displays their emotions.

Contained by cultures are also gender-related rules for different ages that administer various frequencies of particular expressions. In addition to these, many attain personal display rules, which according to Malatesta and Haviland (1982) are expression codes that are idiosyncratic to an individual and, it is assumed, learned in the context of a particular family or experience.[9] These are types of patterns which have developed affectively through social and familial circumstances to provide similar expressive behaviors to those they adopted it from. Gender also plays a role in display rules and how emotions are expressed. Males are more likely than females to reveal their emotions during frazzled and frightened times. Females on the other hand display their emotions more frequently under many circumstances regarding feelings caused from various emotions. However, both sexes in general due to human nature and the way we have socially developed, regulate emotional displays in an intellectual sensitivity to others assessments. This is done in regard to amalgamation or fitting into the prevailing societal formation which surrounds our environment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Siegler, Robert (2006). How Childred Develop, Exploring Child Develop Student Media Tool Kit & Scientific American Reader to Accompany How Children Develop. New York: Worth Publishers. ISBN 0-7167-6113-0.
  2. ^ Safdar, Saba; Matsumoto, David (2009). "Variations of Emotional Display Rules Within and Across Cultures: A Comparison Between Canada, USA, and Japan" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. doi:10.1037/a0014387. Retrieved 4-16-15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ a b Matsumoto, D. (1990). Cultural similarities and differences in display rules. Motivation and Emotion, 14(3), 195–214.
  4. ^ Gnepp, J., & Hess, D.L.R. (1986). Children's understanding of verbal and facial display rules. Developmental Psychology, 22(1), 103–108.
  5. ^ Haidt, Jonathan; Keltner, Dacher (1999). "Culture and Facial Expression: Open-ended Methods Find More Expressions and a Gradient of Recognition". Cognition & Emotion 13 (3): 225–266. doi:10.1080/026999399379267. ISSN 0269-9931. 
  6. ^ Safdar, Saba (2009). "Variations of emotional display rules within and across cultures: A comparison between Canada, USA, and Japan.". Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. doi:10.1037/a0014387. Retrieved 4-16-15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. Unmasking the face. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975.
  8. ^ Barrett, K., & Campos, J. (1987). Perspectives on emotional development II: A functionalist approach to emotions. In J. Osofsky (Ed.), Handbook of infant development (2d ed., pp. 555–578). New York: Wiley.
  9. ^ Malatesta, C.Z., & Haviland, J.M. (1982). Learning display rules: The socialization of emotion expression in infancy. Child Development, 53(4), 991–1003.