Literature Review on Emotions Across Cultures

Ms. Shweta Gaikwad


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The terms emic and etic were coined in 1954, by linguist Kenneth Pike, who argued that the tools developed for describing linguistic behaviors could be adapted to the description of any human social behavior. Emic and Etic are terms used by anthropologists and by others in the social and behavioral sciences to refer to two kinds of data concerning human behavior. In particular, they are used in cultural anthropology to refer to kinds of fieldwork done and viewpoints obtained.

In the field of cross-cultural research, the emic approach involves examining one culture at a time to evaluate how insiders or participants interpret a phenomenon. The criteria for evaluating behaviors relate to the insiders, and the structure is discovered by the researchers. On the other hand, the etic approach involves comparing different cultures. Behavior is studied from the perspective of an outsider, the criteria for evaluating behaviors are viewed as “universal” and the structure is created by the researchers.


“The emic approach investigates how local people think” (Kottak, 2006). How they perceive and categorize the world, their rules for behavior, what has meaning for them, and how they imagine and explain things.” The etic approach realizes that members of a culture often are too involved in what they are doing to interpret their cultures impartially

“The etic (scientist-oriented) approach shifts the focus from local observations, categories, explanations, and interpretations to those of anthropologist.”

When using the etic approach, the ethnographer emphasizes what he or she considers important.

Early Etic and Epic studies in Psychology:

Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, is a researcher who took an etic approach in his studies. Jung studied mythology, religion, ancient rituals, and dreams leading him to believe that there are archetypes used to categorize people’s behaviors. Archetypes are universal structures of the collective unconscious that refer to the inherent way people are predisposed to perceive and process information. The main archetypes that Jung studied were the persona (how people choose to present themselves to the world), the animus/ anima (part of people experiencing the world in viewing the opposite sex, that guides how they select their romantic partner), and the shadow (dark side of personalities because people have a concept of evil. Well-adjusted people must integrate both good and bad parts of themselves). Jung looked at the role of the mother and deduced that all people have mothers and see their mothers in a similar way; they offer nurture and comfort. His studies also suggest that “ infants have evolved to suck milk from the breast, it is also the case that all children have inborn tendencies to react in certain ways.” This way of looking at the mother is an etic way of applying a concept cross- culturally and universally.

Recent Researches on Emic and Epic across Culture:

I) West Meets East: Incorporating the Emic Perspective for Cross-cultural

Business Communication by Yunxia Zhu, University of Queensland Business School

The researcher has shed light on the rapid development of internationalization and globalization, cross-cultural business communication is drawing increasing research attention. The researcher has reviewed and reported findings based on 177 journal papers, published after 1990, in various Journals of Business Communication.

The researcher indicates that there has been a shift of research focus towards Asia and other emerging economies with the rise of Asia and Latin America (e.g., China, India, and Brazil) in the world economic arena. However, Many Scholars contemplate dominant approach of cross–cultural communication and management is Still largely based on polarised cultural dimensions, (e.g., Individualism and collectivism). Hofstede’s (2001).

The research highlights the issue relating to the imbalanced emic-etic focus and propose specific ways of addressing this imbalance, through the discussion on the following three points:

Introduction of the concepts of emic and etic perspective, and discussion of the relevance to cross-cultural business communication.
The sources of emic researches and suggest ways of incorporating them.
The theoretical and practical implications of applying the emic perspective and suggest some future research directions.

The researcher refers to Kenneth Pikes (1967) contribution and definition of the terms epic and ethic and concludes that the etic unit was from the outside in, providing access into the system but only as the starting point of analysis; the full understanding of the emic is the ultimate end point. However the researcher fails to mention the terms are coined priory by Pikes in 1954.

According to the researcher the importance of the emic approach has drawn increasing research attention but it has not been given sufficient research attention in cross-cultural business communication. Also it is crucial to explore and incorporate

The emic perspectives in order to reach a balanced view about the culture and communication in the new economic and cross-cultural contexts.

The researcher has further discussed the Imposed Ethic approach, The Integrative Etic-Emic Approach and Emically Derived Etic Approach with relevance to various researches in the respective fields. There are enough evidences of researches

In conclusion the expant research points to the imperative of incorporating the emic perspective in order to explore the nuances and richness of cultures. Whereas, the emic perspective is especially important today when the East meets the West.

The study of incorporating emic perspectives has both theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, the emic can complement the etic approach, hence extending the prevalent etic approach.

The researcher further suggests future study can examine how emic perspectives can extend other cultural dimensions. Also indicating that various theories can be viewed in the light of emic perspective to derive or facilitate culture studies.

The limitation or overlapping of the theories is also pointed out that some imposed etic or prevalent Western theories are in fact emic in nature. Thus leading to the need to identify the limitations of these theories including tracing sources and contexts of these theories while applying them.

The researcher states that the emic sources of knowledge also extend the etic approach, offering us a wider range of alternative perspectives from emic sources for cross-cultural adaptation. For example, we can be more flexible with communication styles with different group of people in different contexts.

The researcher concludes with the conception that there is potential for developing new theories and for complementing extant theories drawing from emic sources, which will help to achieve significant impact and answer the ‘so what’ question for cross-cultural business communication research.

II) Toward a new approach to the study of personality in culture. by Cheung, Fanny M.; van de Vijver, Fons J. R.; Leong, Frederick T. L.

The research reviews recent developments in the study of culture and personality measurement. Three approaches are described: an etic approach that focuses on establishing measurement equivalence in imported measures of personality, an emic (indigenous) approach that studies personality in specific cultures, and a combined emic–etic approach to personality. The research proposes the latter approach as a way of combining the methodological rigor of the etic approach and the cultural sensitivity of the emic approach. The combined approach is illustrated by two examples: the first with origins in Chinese culture and the second in South Africa. The article ends with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of the combined emic–etic approach for the study of culture and personality and for psychology as a science.

III) Views From Inside and Outside: Integrating Emic and Etic Insights about Culture and Justice Judgment by Michael W. Morris, Stanford University

Kwok Leung, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Daniel Ames, University of California at Berkeley and Brian Lickel, University of California at Santa Barbara.

The research focuses on synergy between emic and etic approaches to research on culture and cognition. The research contemplates the integrative limitation as well as simulative progressive characteristics of emic and etic approaches to research.

The research notes that the emic or inside perspective follows in the tradition of psychological studies of folk beliefs (Wundt, 1888) and The etic or outside perspective follows in the tradition of behaviourist psychology (Skinner, 1938).The two perspectives/approaches persists in contemporary scholarship, in psychology, between cultural psychologists (Shweder, 1991) and cross-cultural psychologists (Smith & Bond, 1998).

Varied views on emic and etic approaches, as facilitating and bringing limitations to one another as integrative, with context to anthropology, comparatives and psychology, are elaborated. Further contemplating that, emic and etic researchers tend to have differing assumptions about culture. Emic researchers tend to assume that a culture is best understood as an interconnected whole or system, whereas etic researchers are more likely to isolate particular components of culture and state hypotheses about their distinct antecedents and consequences.

The researchers agree that there is differences in justice judgments made in East Asian cultural settings, as opposed to Western settings. The researchers examine selected results from the two key components of distributive justice perception: selecting principles and construing behavior.

East Asian cultures have suggested that the principle of harmony is salient in Confucist cultural settings (Hsu, 1953). Whereas Western common sense and theory (Deutsch,

1985). Chinese respondents give more weight to group-oriented values than do North Americans (e.g., Singh,Huang, & Thompson, 1962).

Emic research has revealed novel constructs (e.g., generosity as a means to harmony), has challenged etic constructs (the notion that individual’s adherence to individualist and collectivist values is captured by a unitary dimension), and has suggested new solutions (e.g., distinguishing types of ingroup relations). Insights concerning cultural influence on the interpretation of behavior relevant to justice comes mostly from emic studies. Emic analysis of how culture shapes judgment of deservingness has gone furthest in studies of indigenous Chinese constructs. Although there can be no doubt that an employee’s social connections enter into appraisals in many Western settings, the role of an employee’s connections in an evaluation of his or her worth generally is left implicit and unarticulated by Western observers.

To summarize the researchers have described several forms of stimulation in which developments within each research tradition are provoked and challenged by findings in the other tradition. Moreover, researchers have argued that an integrative explanatory framework incorporating insights from both traditions avoids limitations of purely etic and purely emic findings in conceptualizing culture and in capturing its various influences on cognition.

In conclusion , the researchers have argued that integrative frameworks have several advantages as guides to solving the applied problem of managing justice perceptions in international organizations. That is, an integrative framework enables better anticipation of employees’ justice sensitivities, better decision making about a firm’s policy options, and, once a policy is chosen, better implementation.


The researches on etic and epic approaches suggest that use of integrative approach provides a better understanding of cross-cultural researches. The cultural differences in context to personality, organizational, communication and emotion studies can be broadly generalised if the integrative approach is used. The limitations of one approach are the advantage of the other. Many studies indicate that some emic studies include an epic approach.


Cheung, F. M.; van de Vijver, Fons J. R.; Leong, Frederick T. L. (2011)

Toward a new approach to the study of personality in culture. American Psychologist, Vol. 66(7), pp.593-603. Retrived on 19th November 2013 from:

Emic and Etic Researches-concept Retrieved on 19th November 2013 from:

Friedman, Howard S; Schustack, Miriam W (2012), Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research, Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Kottak, Conrad (2006), Mirror for Humanity, New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Morris, M. W.; Leung, K.; Ames, D. and Lickel, B.( 1999).Views From Inside and Outside: Integrating Emic and Etic Insights about Culture and Justice Judgment. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 24. No. 1781-796.

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