MET:Emotions & Culture in E-learning

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Emotions and Culture in E-Learning

This page was originally authored by Rita Santillan (March, 2010).

Emotion is a complex issue that has extensively debated for centuries. For much of the twenty century, research in emotions was confined to a few psychologists and anthropologist. However, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the panorama is rather different. Anthropologists have begun to question their previous view of the cultural aspects of emotional experiences. Cognitive psychologists are discovering the importance of the affective process. Neuroscientists and researchers in artificial intelligence have also joined the debate.

Emotions and Culture

Every culture has its own emotional state. Evans (2001) argues that the common emotional heritage goes deeper than the cultural differences. Emotions constitute a kind of universal language that binds humanity together into a single family.

For a large part of a twenty century Anthropologist’s view of emotion as learned behaviours, transmitted culturally, much like a language. Margaret Mead believed that people leaving in different cultures should experience different emotions. Conversely, in 1967 Paul Ekman’ studies provided the first scientific evidence that the expressions associated with some emotions were biologically universal to all humans. Ekman called these basic emotions.

Basic Emotions

basic emotions

The universality of basic emotions argues strongly for their biological nature. Like all human beings have the same kind of body, with minor variations, so, all have the same kind of mind. This universal human nature is encoded in the human genome, the legacy of ours shared evolutionary history. Evans (2001). Ekmans (1999)views on emotion changed radically on: (a) a pleasant—unpleasant and active—passive scale were sufficient to capture the differences among emotions; and (b) the relationship between a facial configuration and what it signified is socially learned and culturally variable.

Cultural Specific Emotions

Each culture has its own rules that define socially acceptable forms of emotional expression, while some cultures encourage vivid facial expression, others make more than an effort to attenuate them. There are culturally specific emotions that are not innate. They will develop if there are special conditions provided for some cultures.

The categorization of emotions can differ from languages to languages. The way people interpret their emotions depends, to some extent at least, on the lexical grid provided by their native language. It depends on the language through the prism of which these feelings are interpreted, and the prism depends on culture. Wierzbicka (1999).

The Higher Cognitive Emotions

The Higher Cognitive Emotions are less innate than the basic emotions but more innate than culturally specific. They are more capable of being influenced by conscious thought, more cultural variable than the basic emotions. They also take longer to build up, and longer to die away than basic emotions. They include: love, guilt, shame, embarrassment, pride, envy jealousy (Dylan, 2001). It was developed by philosopher Paul Griffiths who argues that "heterogeneous construction" of emotion, which includes both social constructionist and evolutionary psychologist work on higher cognitive emotions (Griffiths, 1997).

Aristotle and Emotional Intelligence


Aristotle’s concept of the golden means is remarkably similar to what psychologist refer as to Emotional Intelligence(Evans, 2001).“Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions; to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought; to understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” (Mayer & Salovey, 1997) . Emotional Intelligent people know when is right to control their emotions and are able to read other’s people’s emotion correctly. Konstan (2006) argues that Aristotle’s Rhetoric on emotion analysis has something to tell us about our own view of emotions. The Greeks elicited emotions by interpreting words, acts and intentions of others, each in its characteristic way.

Emotions & Reasoning

Since Plato times it’s been debated on how emotions affects reasoning. According to de Souza,Damasio and Evans among others who see the positive view of emotions argue that emotions always affect reasoning for better. Evans (2003) examines a way of elucidating how emotions help reasons. He calls it “The search Hypothesis of Emotion”. “It is the claim that emotions enable humans to solve the search problem” (Evans, 2003: 508).

Evans (2001) analyzes three cognitive capacities:

Attention as the capacity to focus on specific thought or activity is affected by moods. Emotions might distract from one thought to pay attention to another.

Memory, like attention it’s highly selective. Emotions help to etch events deeply in the memory. Any event produces a strong emotion in anybody, whether positive or negative.

Logical reasoning, emotions can exert a powerful influence on decision-making and judgment. ‘The research of Mackie and Worth suggests that there are two ways of forming judgment about complex issues. One way is slow but precise, and the other is quick and dirty.

Emotions & Technology

One objective of the field of human-computer or technology interaction human-computer or technology interaction (HCI) is to explore encounters between technology and emotions. Pietrina (n.d) argues that Technology and action necessarily generates emotions; and both technology and feelings cannot be separated. Petrina maps the scholarship on technology and emotion(s) as follow: File:Technology and emotions.png

Emotions in a Virtual Classroom


Comparing the virtual with the non-virtual is ontologically questionable. Virtuality removes most, if not all, of the corporeal cues that have underpinned much of our understanding of the social construction of emotion. Gilmore and Warren(2001)argue that virtual settings offer creative opportunities for individuals to experiment with the construction and expression of feeling and to negotiate novel emotion protocols, some of which will become institutionalized for the medium. It will contribute to a more emotionally suffused teaching experience for online tutors.

See Also

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Theory of Emotions

Emotions & Culture

Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Evans, Dylan. (2001). Emotions: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Evans, Dylan. (2004). ‘The search hypothesis of emotion’ in Emotion, Evolution, and Rationality, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, pp.179-191. (Reprint of Evans, D. (2002) ‘The search hypothesis of emotion’ The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science , 53 (4): 497-509.

Gilmore, S. & Warren, S. (2007). Emotion online: experiences of teaching in a virtual learning environment'’, Human Relations, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 581-608.

Griffiths, Paul E.(1997). What emotions really are: the problem of psychological categories.Chapter 5 the Higher Cognitive Emotions. Retrieved from the Internet on Feb12,2010 from

Petrina, Stephen. (n.d.). Technology and Emotion(s) Retrieved on June 20, 2009 from

Konstan, David. (2006). The emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Greek Literature. Retrieved from the internet on February 24, 2010 from

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 197-215.

Wierzbicka, Anna. (1999). Emotions across languages and cultures: Diversity and universals. Paris: Cambridge University Press: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de L’Homme.

Picture: Basic Emotions, was used by Ekman on his studies of basic emotions in Fore Tribesman of Papa New Guinea.