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Quanto sono universali le nostre emozioni? [EN]

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Nikhil Krishnan sul New Yorker racconta come in “Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions” (Norton), la psicologa olandese Batja Mesquita analizzi le nostre emozioni che lei ritiene essere costruzioni che ereditiamo dalle nostre comunità.

In Mesquita’s book, Westerners have succumbed to a mode of thinking sufficiently widespread to be the subject of a Pixar film. In “Inside Out,” a little girl, Riley, is shown as having a mind populated by five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger—each assigned an avatar. Anger is, of course, red. A heated conversation between Riley and her parents is represented as similar red figures being activated in each of them. “Inside Out” captures, with some visual flair, what Mesquita calls the mine model of emotion, a model in which emotions are “Mental, INside the person, and Essentialist”—that is, always having the same properties.

In a passage where she sets out her working methods, she tells us about some empirical results that had puzzled her. Asked to list “emotion words,” her respondents from Turkish and Surinamese families were especially inclined to list words that referred to behaviors. And so words for “laughing” appeared more often than “joy,” and “crying” more often than “sadness.” Some thought terms for “yelling” and “helping” were emotion words. What all this established, for Mesquita, is that “cultural differences go beyond semantics”; that emotions lived “ ‘between’ people rather than ‘within.’ ”

Mesquita propone quindi un modello alternativo, chiamato OURS (“OUtside the person, Relational, and Situated”), che ritiene ampiamente diffuso al di fuori dell’Occidente, e che ha un grande vantaggio: ponendo le emozioni “al di fuori” della persona, le rende più facili da comunicare e condividere.

One reason people resist the notion that emotions might be different in different cultures, Mesquita acknowledges, is a desire for inclusivity: the worry is that “to say that people from other groups or cultures have different emotions is equivalent to denying their humanity.” On the contrary, she argues: it’s the insistence on cultural invariance that has the tendency to exclude. The mine model, by obscuring non-Western ways of talking about and conceiving of emotions, ends up implying that what non-Western people have must really be something other than emotion. And so the inclusivists, she contends, end up treating those who are different as effectively nonhuman. Only by accepting that emotions are culturally specific, she thinks, can we truly understand the people with whom we share this planet. Accordingly, she offers a prescription: “Do not assume that a person who does not behave the way you expect is suppressing their authentic, real emotion. Ask.


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