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Display rules are a social group's informal norms about when, where, and how one should express emotions. They can be described as culturally prescribed rules that people learn early on in their lives by interactions and socializations with other people. Because display rules vary greatly across cultures, there is no standard set for them. In addition to the cultural aspect, display rules also vary in high-contact and low-contact cultures.
The way in which emotions are conveyed differ substantially between people in different contexts. These unique emotional displays can help identify one's individualistic nature. These emotions can be accurately pinpointed to a certain behavior in a certain environment. In the presence of others, one's way of behaving may be skewed due to the specific context that they are in. This may vary from person to person, and may run in families.
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).
Culture is defined as "shared behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and values communicated from generation to generation via language or some other means." 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.
An 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. In comparison to those in Western cultures, people in Asian cultures are more likely to hide their emotions (anger, disgust, intense excitement) in public and private settings due to a cultural difference. This differs in Mexican culture, where emotions are welcome to be openly displayed, much like American culture.
High and low-contact cultures also vary in the amount of physical interaction and direct contact there is during one-on-one communication. High-contact cultures involve people practicing direct eye contact, frequent touching, physical contact, and having close proximity to others. Examples of countries that have a high-contact culture include Mexico, Italy, and Brazil. Low-contact cultures involve people who practice less direct eye contact, little touching, have indirect body orientation, and more physical distance between people. Examples of countries that have a low-contact culture include the United States, Canada, and Japan.
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. 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". 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. 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.
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