Emotion expression and regulation in three cultures: Chinese, Japanese, and American preschoolers’ reactions to disappointment

Ka I. Ip, Alison L. Miller, Mayumi Karasawa, Hidemi Hirabayashi, Midori Kazama, Li Wang, Sheryl L. Olson, Daniel Kessler, Twila Tardif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


There are strong cultural norms for how emotions are expressed, yet little is known about cultural variations in preschoolers’ outward displays and regulation of disappointment. Chinese, Japanese, and American preschoolers’ (N = 150) displays of emotion to an undesired gift were coded across both social and nonsocial contexts in a “disappointing gift” paradigm. Generalized estimating equations revealed that, regardless of culture, when children received a disappointing gift, they showed more positive expressions of emotion (“fake smile”) in social contexts (in the presence of unfamiliar and familiar examiners) relative to when they were alone, suggesting that preschool-aged children are able to mask their disappointment with positive displays. However, children's emotion expressions varied across both cultures and contexts. American children were more positively and negatively expressive than Japanese children and were more negatively expressive than Chinese children. Chinese and Japanese preschoolers verbally reported more negative emotions but showed more neutral expressions than American preschoolers when receiving the disappointing gift. In addition, across different contexts of the task, there were subtle differences in how Chinese and Japanese children regulated their emotional expressions, with Chinese children showing similar levels of neutral expressions (e.g., “poker face”) across different contexts in the task. Thus, our findings highlight the importance of understanding cultural meanings and practices underlying emotion development during early childhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104972
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant ( HSD 0527475 ) to T. Tardif, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant ( K01-MH066139 ) to A. L. Miller, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI grants ( 17530485 and 20330139 ) to H. Hirabayashi.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Culture
  • Emotion expression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Preschoolers


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