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Cultural Differences in Emotion Expression and Suppression: Implications for Health and Well-Being


Although there is much evidence that cultural groups differ in emotion regulation (e.g., emotion suppression) and social information processing (e.g., self-enhancement vs. self-improvement motivations), there is little research that investigates the consequences or implications of these cultural differences. As such, I set out to understand when reliance on psychological processes that may vary in meaning across cultural lines (e.g., emotion suppression and self-enhancement) serves to optimize or compromise psychological and physical well-being across groups. This dissertation is comprised of two parts each containing two studies. The first part focuses on examining cultural variations in the use and utility of emotion suppression versus expression through experimental and longitudinal designs across cultural groups (Study 1 and 2). The second part focuses on examining the extent to which emotion expression and disclosure through writing improves mood across cultural groups (Study 3 and 4). Study 1 investigated the naturalistic use of emotion suppression and personal disclosure as a function of ethnic match in an interview about stressful personal experiences. Ethnically matched European Americans exhibited greater emotion expression and disclosure than ethnically mismatched European Americans, but there were no effects of ethnic match for Asian Americans. Study 2 examined cultural variation in the longer-term consequences of habitual emotion suppression coping on depressive symptoms among Vietnamese American and European American adolescents. Emotion suppression coping led to later depressive symptoms for European Americans, but this relationship was attenuated for Vietnamese Americans. Whereas family stress events mediated this relationship for Vietnamese Americans, friendship stress events mediated this relationship for European Americans. Study 3 and 4 examined the effects of self-enhancement and self-improvement processes on emotional and physical well-being during an expressive writing trial, and during recovery from a laboratory-based social stressor, respectively. Results suggest that culturally congruent self-reflection processes may lead to improved emotional and physiological recovery across both studies. By bridging cultural psychological theory into clinical science, my dissertation studies allowed for the opportunity to expose meaningful variability in psychological processes that promote health and adjustment across cultural groups.

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