A Research from the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study in Tokyo, published in Psychological Science, compared how Japanese and Dutch people assess another’s emotions. The study found Japanese people pay more attention to the tone of voice than facial expression.
Researchers recorded Japanese and Dutch actors expressing the neutral phrase ‘is that so?’ in angry and happy ways.
Videos were edited to match angry tone with happy facial expression and vice versa. Japanese and Dutch volunteers watched the videos in both languages and were asked to assess whether the person was happy or angry. The study found that Japanese participants paid more attention to vocal tone, even when instructed to concentrate on facial expression. Researchers suggest this reflects different ways of communicating that may lead to misunderstandings.
Researcher Akihiro Tanaka commented:
“I think Japanese people tend to hide their negative emotions by smiling, but it’s more difficult to hide negative emotions in the voice.”
Japanese people may be used to listening for emotional cues. A Dutch person used to the voice and face matching may see a Japanese person smiling and overlook the upset tone, thereby reaching the wrong conclusion about the person’s mood.