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In cultures emphasizing interdependence, children are socialized to suppress the expression of emotions in order to maintain good relationships. In cultures emphasizing independence, children are encouraged to express emotions directly (Heine, 2012; Kang et al., 2003). Thus, in cultures emphasizing interdependence, warm parents may encourage children’s own emotional suppression. Furthermore, emotional suppression may have different correlates in the two types of cultures.
In this study, we examined whether undergraduates’ perceptions of their mothers’ warmth predicted their own suppression of emotions, as well as associations between the suppression of positive and negative emotion with reports of prosocial behaviors and self-esteem in European-American, Korean, and Korean-American samples. We wondered if emotion suppression would be less strongly associated with low self-esteem for the Korean-origin samples compared to the European-American sample. We also wondered whether emotional suppression might be more strongly related to prosocial behavior in the Korean-origin groups, since the suppression of emotional expression aims at maintaining group harmony and good interpersonal relationships—aims relevant to prosocial behavior—whereas it is associated with self-protective functions in Western culture (Butler, Lee, & Gross, 2007). Finally, we wondered whether Korean-Americans, who are exposed to both Asian and Western values, might show different patterns of associations in the aforementioned variables compared to native Koreans.
Regarding warmth, we examined the indirect expression of parental warmth; specifically, undergraduates’ perceptions of their parents’ implicitly trusting them. The indirect expression of parental warmth may be more relevant to children in interdependent cultures than independent cultures (Choi et al., 2013; Wu & Chao, 2011, 2017). For instance, as compared to a European-American sample, perceptions of mothers’ indirect expression of warmth better predicted Korean undergraduates’ prosocial behaviors toward family (Rudy, Im, Song & Carlo, 2017).
Participants were 121 European-American (54 females), 122 Korean (70 females), and 91 Korean-American (64 females) undergraduates. Perceptions of maternal indirect warmth were assessed by a measure of implicit parental trust developed by Rudy et al. (2017). Participants reported on their tendencies to suppress the expression of positive emotion (e.g., happiness) and negative emotion (e.g., unhappiness) with a measure developed by Sheldon (Sheldon et al., 2017). Participants also reported on their prosocial behaviors toward family, friends, and strangers on a short form of the Prosocial Tendencies Measure (Carlo & Randall, 2002) and completed Rosenberg’s (1965) measure of Self-Esteem.
Descriptive statistics are presented in Table 1. Figure 1 depicts the models we tested using path analyses. Where paths differed significantly for the samples, we allowed them to vary. Group differences were found only for unhappiness suppression (Figure 1a). For the Korean-origin groups only, there was a trend for indirect warmth to positively predict unhappiness suppression. Indirect warmth negatively predicted happiness suppression for all groups (Figure 1b). Both happiness and unhappiness suppression were linked negatively to prosocial behaviors toward family and strangers but not toward friends. Unhappiness suppression had more detrimental relations with prosocial behaviors toward family and strangers and self-esteem for Korean-Americans compared to the other two groups. The implications of the findings are discussed.