The idea of cultural universality posits that some cultures or traitsare common to all societies around the world. Some culturaluniversals can include music, feasting, cooking, dancing, toolmaking, housing and such other practices. In the case of twosocieties such as France and Kenya, cultural universality holds thatthe two societies have similar cultures. In regards to emotionalexperiences, cultural universality holds that the two societies havea common culture courtesy of sharing such emotional activities. Thisis captured by the six basic emotions of happiness, sadness, anger,fear, disgust, and surprise. The fact that people in Kenya and Francehave a way of expressing and acknowledging these emotions means thatthat they share culture under cultural universality. However, thisapproach fails to effectively explain how specifically thesedifferent cultures experience these emotions. It also explains thatemotions are universal but fails to indicate how emotions areexperienced, perceived, regulated and expressed uniquely.
In the case ofKenya, some communities have developed unique ways of experiencing,expressing, regulating and displaying the same emotions which aredifferent from the methods used in France. For instance, among thepastoralist community of the Maasai, happiness is expressed throughsmiles, jumping up and down and other means such as ululations(Barsby, J. (2010). While smiling as emotional expression maybeuniversal, ululations are not and are specific to the Maasai in thiscase. On the other hand, among the Kipsigis tribe of Kenya living inthe Rift Valley, children are discouraged from expressing theiremotions and adults distract them whenever they attempt to do so.Doing so de-emphasizes internal and personal attributes and makesthem more community-oriented (Ratner 2000). This differs greatly withthe situation in France and other western countries which tend toencourage children to express their emotions such as fears in life.By encouraging them to do so, parents hope that they can help thechildren tackle these fears (ibid). It thus clear that thoughemotions are universal in these two societies, the culturaluniversality concept does not effectively explain unique experiencesof these emotions.
Cultural display rules concept is better placed to explain theemotional experiences unique to a particular culture. Display rulesare just unwritten codes or guidelines that direct members of acultural or social group on how, where and where to express orwithhold emotions. Additionally, the rules may further beinternalized as a function of family background, socioeconomicstatus, age or even gender. However, the internalized culturaldisplay is still part of the larger national or society culture.Other divisions might be geographical, religious or even otherspecial interest groups.
In the case of Kenya and France, cultural display rules are veryeffective in explaining the emotional experiences unique to aparticular culture. In France for instance, kisses on cheek can beused as greetings or goodbyes. Usually, the lips do not touch thecheek but the kissing sound is made. However, the practice is notvery common amongst men. Additionally, the number of kisses on eithercheek may vary from two to four depending on the region in thecountry. Hugging and holding of hand is also common between friendsor family. For couples, caressing in public is also much acceptablein France (Haine 2006). In Kenya on the other hand, the society hasstrict rules on cultural display. Kissing in public or caressing inpublic is prohibited with those engaging in such display likely to belooked down upon (Barsby 2010). It is thus clear that culturaluniversality does not effectively explain the emotional experiencesunique to a particular culture but cultural display rule achievesthis goal.
Barsby, J. (2010). Kenya – culture smart! The essential guide to customs & culture.London:
Haine, W. (2006).Culture and customs of France. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group,
Ratner, C. (2000). Acultural-psychological analysis of emotions. Culture of psychology.6:5-39.
Tsai, J. (n.d.). Thecultural shaping of emotion (and other feelings). Retrieved from