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Russians Inhibit the Expression of Happiness to Strangers: Testing a Display Rule Model


Cultural stereotypes and considerable psychological research suggest that Russians are less happy and more stoic than Americans and Westerners. However, a second possibility is simply that cultural norms deter Russians from displaying happiness that they actually feel. To test this second possibility, three studies compared the emotional inhibition tendencies in U.S. and Russian student samples. Although Russians and Americans were no different on subjective well-being (SWB), a consistent three-way interaction was found such that Russians (compared with Americans) reported greater inhibition of the expression of happiness (vs. unhappiness), but mainly to strangers (vs. friends/family). Russians also viewed their peers and countrymen as behaving similarly. Furthermore, a consistent interaction was found such that the degree of happiness inhibition with strangers was negatively correlated with SWB in the U.S. samples but was unrelated to SWB in the Russian samples. Given the equivalent levels of SWB observed in these data, we suggest that Russians may not be less happy than Americans, as this would illogically entail that they exaggerate their SWB reports while also claiming to inhibit their expression of happiness. Implications for emotion researchers and international relations are considered.

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