CHINA - Media OutReach - 20 December 2019 - To be a leader requires many skills, including the ability
to read and assess the emotional reactions of subordinates quickly and
accurately. This skill, also known as emotional aperture, is an important
leadership skill that allows leaders to interpret group reactions of
"Emotional aperture ability provides
a leader with a wealth of information about how a group is responding
emotionally to a situation, and allows her to behave appropriately and
strategically," says Prof. Ying-yi Hong,
Choh-Ming Li Professor of Marketing of Department of Marketing at The Chinese
University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School.
In her recent research study in
collaboration with researchers at Australian Catholic University in New South
Wales and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Prof. Hong
explores how culture affects emotional aperture.
"Accurately reading collective
emotions is particularly necessary as individuals are regularly more dependent
on accurate inferences regarding the collective's beliefs, goals, and action
tendencies, to harmoniously navigate social life," she says.
Prior research have shown how, given
the wide-ranging influence of collective affect, an individual's ability to
decode the collective affect can facilitate their success in liaising, leading,
and navigating group dynamics. In a previous study, she and other
researchers found that Chinese had lower level of collective empathy toward the
2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami as compared with Americans.
However, it is not easy to interpret
collective emotional reactions.
"Unlike perceiving individual emotions,
where attention rests on a single focal target, perceiving collective emotions
requires focusing on a broader view of targets. Given the inherent subtle,
variant, and fleeting nature of emotional cues, the task of understanding the
overall affective composition of a group can be challenging," Prof. Hong
Global versus Local Processing
Human beings process information on
either the holistic view of the specific information (global) or details of
that information (local). Previous research studies have shown that people with
high global processing ability are more successful at recognising collective
emotions. Given its interdependent culture, Easterners are known to be more
affected by the emotions displayed by the surrounding people than Westerners.
In other words, Easterners' global processing is more prevalent than their
Western counterparts. However, does it mean that Easterners are really better
at recognising collective emotions than Westerners?
To find the answer, Prof. Hong and
her collaborators tested two hypotheses in the study: First, Chinese will show
a higher level of accuracy in recognising patterns of group emotional reactions
than will North Americans. Second, the cross-cultural variability predicted in
the first hypothesis will be mediated by greater global processing exhibited
among Chinese compared with North Americans.
A total of 98 American Caucasian
undergraduate students from an American university and 79 Chinese
undergraduates who were born in mainland China from a Hong Kong university were
recruited for the study. The participants were told to report the emotional
reactions that they saw in four-person group photos, whereby some of the
persons in the photos show happiness, anger, fear or a neutral facial
expression. The four-person group photos were shown very quickly (500
mini-second) so that it was not an easy task. On the other hand, the
participants' global versus local cognition was tested using the Navon letter
identification task in which some large letters (e.g., "F") were made
up by some small letters (e.g., many "T"s). The participants were
asked to identify either the large or small letter as quickly and accurately as
possible. Quickly recognising the large letters requires a global processing of
the whole image, whereas quickly recognising small letters requires a local
processing of the details in the image. Therefore, the shorter reaction time in
identifying the large letters in comparison to the small letters, the more
global than local cognitive-oriented a person would be.
Cultural Differences in Recognising Collective Emotion
As predicted, the study showed that
the Chinese participants demonstrated a higher level of accuracy in recognising
group emotions than their American counterparts. However, the Chinese
participants showed a lower level of accuracy in identifying individual
emotions than did the North Americans. In addition, based on their responses in
the Navon task, the Chinese participants were more global cognitive-oriented
than their Western counterparts.
To further explore whether global
cognition plays a role in collective emotion recognition, the researchers
simulated 5,000 samples from the original data and attained a 95% confidence
interval, suggesting that the indirect effect of global cognition on collective
emotion recognition was significant. In other words, the Chinese students'
higher performance in recognising collective emotions was in fact influenced by
their higher level of global processing.
"Growing up where the emphasis
is on attending to the forest rather than the tree, it appears to shape
fundamental ways individuals see emotional reactions," says Prof. Hong. "Our
results shows that among individuals from cultural contexts known to foster
interdependence as compared with independence, there exists a greater ability
to recognise subtle shifts in the emotional reactions of the collective."
Going forward, Prof. Hong says more
research on how culture interplay with psychological processes are needed in
order for human beings to have a more comprehensive understanding of how we
make sense of our world.
"This research represents the
first and initial exploration at examining evidence for cross-cultural
variability in decoding collective emotions. As such, it opens a new line of
investigation within the budding literature on collective emotion recognition
and complements the traditional focus on individual emotion recognition
processes," says Prof. Hong.
"Moreover, based on our
findings on reading collective affect, we expect that other domains of people
perception, such as group hierarchy, group diversity and group competence, also
operate differently across different cultures," she says, adding that
future studies will be worthwhile.
Ying Yang, Ying-yi Hong and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Emotional Aperture Across East and West: How
Culture Shapes the Perception of Collective Affect, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
This article was first published in the China
Business Knowledge (CBK) website by CUHK Business School: https://bit.ly/2SdJXBD.
About CUHK Business School
Business School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel and
Tourism Management -- and four departments -- Decision Sciences and
Managerial Economics, Finance, Management and Marketing. Established
in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first business school to offer BBA, MBA and
Executive MBA programmes in the region. Today, the School
offers 8 undergraduate programmes and 20
graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA,
Master, MSc, MPhil and Ph.D.
the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2019,
CUHK MBA is ranked 57th. In FT's 2019 EMBA ranking, CUHK EMBA is ranked 24th
in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest number of business alumni (36,000+)
among universities/business schools in Hong Kong -- many of whom are key
business leaders. The School currently has about 4,400
undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Lin Zhou is the Dean of CUHK
More information is
available at www.bschool.cuhk.edu.hk or by connecting
with CUHK Business School on: