cover image Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions

Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions

Batja Mesquita. Norton, $28.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-324-00244-4

“Many of the answers about emotions are not to be found in our insides, but importantly, in our social contexts,” contends Mesquita, a psychology professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium, in her dazzling debut. Arguing that “we primarily have emotions in order to adjust to changes in our relationship with the (social) world,” the author uses social psychology and eye-opening case studies to examine the cultural, political, and economic factors that influence what people feel. Mesquita lays out two ways of thinking about emotions: MINE (“Mental, INside the person, and Essentialist”) and OURS (“OUtside the person, Relational, and Situated”). She suggests that Western cultures tend to take the MINE approach while OURS predominates everywhere else, and she cites a study that found Japanese Olympic athletes emphasized the relational aspect of emotions more than their American counterparts in interviews. Exploring how parents instruct children in emotional norms, Mesquita describes how Minangkabau people in West Sumatra shame kids when they break a norm and how Bara people in Madagascar teach the young to fear displeasing ancestral spirits so that the children comply with authority. The bounty of case studies captivates and makes a strong argument that social conditions have the power to dictate how one expresses and experiences emotions. The result is a bracing and bold appraisal of how feelings develop. (July)