There is More to A Smile Than Just Happiness – Finding Culture In Simple Gesture

When visiting my sister in South Korea, I spent time in the classroom with her students during her English class. At the end of my week at school, I found myself surrounded by small children excited for a picture with their guest. Small hands rose up each forming the letter “V” for these photo shoots.

Gesture is influenced by culture. In a study completed in 2003, psychologist Abagail Marsh proved that participants in the United States and Canada could differentiate between Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals through non-verbal gestures and facial expressions. Just like we have cultural models for our ways of thinking, we also have cultural underpinnings that influence how we physically express our most universal emotional states.

“Cultural differences are intensified during the act of expressing emotion, rather than residing only in facial features or other static elements of appearance,” Marsh writes in the abstract for the 2003 report.

Marsh and her colleagues ran a similar experiment in 2007 with more surprising results. Slate reported on this research this week in honor of the many universal, but culturally influenced, expressions we’ll be seeing during the Olympics in London.

At FrameWorks, we are looking more into the role of gesture  and culture when we interview the public for our research.  We are interested in common non verbal-cues to find out more about how different values and explanatory metaphors influence and impact human thought.

What common gestures do you see used to articulate support for your cause? In what way are those gestures related to culture?

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