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Emotion

2011, Vol. 11, No. 4, 866 880

2011 American Psychological Association


1528-3542/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0024025

Emotions in Memories of Success and Failure: A Cultural Perspective


Meng Zhang and Susan E. Cross
Iowa State University
Americans and Chinese tend to behave differently in response to success and failure: Americans tend to
persist on a task after success, whereas Chinese tend to persist after failure. This study examined whether
cultural differences in emotional reactions to success and failure account for these differences. American
and Chinese students recalled personal success and failure events, evaluated the primary emotion evoked
by the event, and responded to measures of concerns, appraisals, and willingness to try the same task
again. Americans were more likely than Chinese to report that their success enhanced their self-esteem.
Chinese were more likely than Americans to estimate that their success would make others jealous and
enhance others respect for their family. Chinese, compared to Americans, viewed failures as more
tolerable, as less problematic for their goals, and as less damaging to their self-esteem. Culture moderated
the relations between these components of emotion and willingness to try the task again. In short,
culturally framed emotional reactions to success and failure result in different patterns of anticipated
self-regulation.
Keywords: emotion, success, failure, culture, self-regulation

What are the implications of these different cultural perspectives


on emotional reactions to success and failure? In particular, how
do cultural values shape peoples emotional experiences and reactions to personal success and failure, and what are their consequences for persistence? To examine these questions we first
describe motivational and cognitive consequences of success and
failure in American and Chinese cultural contexts. Second, we
review studies investigating the associations between emotions
and self-regulation. Third, we describe cultural differences in
emotions and discuss their possible underlying mechanisms. Finally, we use a componential model of emotion to examine cultural
differences in emotions.

Never be pleased by external or personal gains, and never be


saddened by external or personal losses. This is a well-known
ancient Chinese saying. It suggests that peoples emotions should
not be contingent upon their success or failure. This is consistent
with the cultural norms in China, which discourages highly activated emotions, such as excitement (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung,
2006). Moreover, culture provides normative ways to regulate
emotions during success and failure events. According to Chinese
views, success may hinder a persons future goal pursuit if he or
she indulges in positive emotions, whereas failure may bring future
success if the person controls negative emotions and learns lessons
from the experience.
In contrast, in European-American culture, self-confidence, high
self-esteem, and highly activated positive emotions are generally
valued (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). Maintaining positive views
of oneself facilitates elevated moods, which enable the use of
effective problem-solving strategies; positive self-views foster motivation, persistence, and effective performance (Taylor & Brown,
1988; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). Thus, the experience and
expression of positive emotions after success is generally accepted
and encouraged in American culture and are ways of maintaining
high self-esteem. Whereas happiness and pleasure are highly valued in the United States, emotional distresses are believed to lead
to self-regulatory failure and self-defeating behaviors (Baumeister,
1998; Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996; Leith & Baumeister, 1996).

Success and Failure in Cultural Contexts


Success and failure events tend to have different consequences
for European Americans and East Asians. Heine and his colleagues
(Heine et al., 2001) found that European Americans who were
given false negative feedback on a task persisted less on a similar
follow-up task than those who were given false positive feedback.
In contrast, East Asians who received false negative feedback
persisted longer in the follow-up task than those who received
false positive feedback. They explained the difference by distinguishing self-enhancing and self-improving motivations (Heine et
al., 2001). Specifically, European Americans, who tend to have an
independent self-construal, are disposed to seek or enhance positive self-views. They are sensitive to information that confirms
their positive self-views, which in turn motivates them to continue
self-affirming tasks. In contrast, East Asians, who tend to have an
interdependent self-construal, view criticism from others as a
means to improve themselves and thereby live up to social norms
and close others expectations. Consequently, East Asians have a
propensity to be sensitive to negative information about themselves. The presumption is that lay theories of self are different for
East Asians and European Americans: Americans possess a fixed

This article was published Online First June 27, 2011.


Meng Zhang and Susan E. Cross, Department of Psychology, Iowa State
University.
We are grateful to Zlatan Krizan, Kari Terzino, Tsui-feng Wu, Brianna
Adix, Candace Wetzel, Addy Dittmer, John Hunter, and Noa Adams for
their generous advice on the draft of this paper.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Meng
Zhang, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, Lagomarcino
Hall W112, Ames, IA 50011. E-mail: mzhang@iastate.edu
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EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

view of ability, which results in a tendency to persist on tasks on


which one performs well; East Asians tend to see ability as
malleable and changeable over time, which results in a tendency to
work harder on tasks on which one has failed and thus increases
ones ability (Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1997).
Other empirical evidence also reveals cultural differences in the
cognitive consequences of success and failure experiences. For
European Americans, memories of successes are more accessible
than memories of failures; in contrast, for East Asians, memories
of successes and failures are equally accessible (Endo & Meijer,
2004). Cultural differences also exist in attributions for success
and failure. European Americans make more internal attributions
(e.g., effort) for success than for failure, but East Asians do not
differ in their attributions for these two types of events. Whereas
European Americans attribute success and failure equally to luck,
East Asians attribute success to luck more than they attribute
failure to luck (Endo & Meijer, 2004). In short, compared with
European Americans, East Asians make fewer self-serving attributions for success and failure.
Previous studies explained cultural variations in reactions to
success and failure events in terms of motivational and cognitive
differences. Very few of them, however, examined the role of
affect in behavior. For example, why do Americans persist less on
a failed task than on a successful one? One possible reason is that
the emotional distress caused by failure undermines selfregulation, leading to less persistence (Leith & Baumeister, 1996).
This, however, does not explain the behavior of East Asians, who
work harder after failure than success (Heine et al., 2001). How
might emotions influence cultural differences in persistence after
success or failure? First, Americans and East Asians may differ in
their emotional reactions to success and failure. For example, East
Asians may feel little emotional distress after failure and therefore
do not experience self-regulation failure. After success, they may
feel low intensity positive emotions, resulting in low motivation to
persist. Heine and his colleagues (2001) found that although people from both cultures tended to feel bad after failure, East Asians
good feelings toward success were less extreme than North Americans feelings. Moreover, Imada and Ellsworth (in press) found
that, in success situations, Americans tended to report stronger
self-oriented emotions such as pride than East Asians, whereas
East Asians tended to report stronger situation-oriented emotions
such as feeling lucky. Second, if both groups experience similar
emotions after success and failure, it is possible that emotion
influences self-regulation differently in these two cultures. Negative emotions may not lead to negative consequences for selfregulation for East Asians; instead, negative affect may motivate
these individuals to work harder after failure. Positive emotions
may not lead to positive consequences for self-regulation for them
or may even decrease their motivation. A recent study indicated
that reflecting on negative feelings could have a different impact
on behavior for people from different cultures: Russians showed a
more adaptive behavioral pattern than did Americans (Grossmann
& Kross, 2010). It suggests that culture may moderate consequences of negative feelings. The third possibility is that both
reasons contribute to the cultural differences: East Asians and
European Americans may experience different emotions in success
and failure situations, and emotion may function differently in the
two cultures as well.

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Emotion and Self-Regulation


Previous studies of the relation between emotion and selfregulation were primarily based on Western participants with
individualistic cultural values. Some studies focused on negative
emotions and revealed that emotional distress impairs selfregulation (Baumeister, 1998; Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister,
2001). People in a negative affective state (such as embarrassment,
anger, or frustration) have a high likelihood of engaging in selfdestructive behaviors (Baumeister, 1997; Leith & Baumeister,
1996). Additionally, negative emotions may misdirect peoples
attention; individuals tend to focus on immediate temptations and
ignore long-term goals (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996; Tice,
Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). From the perspective of the
strength model of self-regulation, which posits that various kinds
of self-regulation draw on one limited resource, emotional coping
may consume limited resources for self-regulation (Baumeister,
Vohs, & Tice, 2007). Emotional distress may be so salient that
people have to cope with it immediately, which then undermines
other forms of self-regulation (Baumeister, 1997, 1998).
Another perspective focuses on the signal function of emotions.
Carver and Scheier (1990) proposed a feedback model of selfregulation in which both positive and negative emotions contribute
to future self-corrective attempts. For example, guilt has been
considered to serve various relationship-enhancing functions
(Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Leith & Baumeister,
1996). Anticipatory guilt may help individuals pay attention to
long-term negative outcomes for the desired relationship and help
them transcend immediate temptations, thereby facilitating selfregulation (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996). In contrast, positive
emotions indicate that things are going well or perhaps better than
expected for the current goal; therefore, they may lead the person
to shift attention to other tasks (Carver, 2003).
There are no simple answers regarding the effects of positive
and negative emotions on self-regulation. On the one hand, a good
mood may be beneficial to self-control. Some research shows that
people in a good mood are more likely to restrain themselves from
taking unnecessary risks (Isen, Nygren & Ashby, 1988). On the
other hand, positive emotions may distract people from working
further on the current goal because the positive feelings indicate a
relatively good situation (Carver, 2003). Thus, positive emotions
may both facilitate and hamper progress toward ones current
goals. Similarly, negative emotions may disrupt current effort; it
may also serve as a signal to warn individuals to work harder
toward their current goals.
Again, these processes have been examined largely in Western
cultural contexts and so may be shaped by Western assumptions
and values. In the next section, we review how cultural values
shape the way we feel.

Culture and Emotion


Culture shapes individuals emotional experiences in several
ways. Affect valuation theory (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006)
suggests that cultural factors influence individuals preferred ways
of feeling good, termed ideal affect. European American adults
value highly activated positive states, such as excitement and
enthusiasm, more than Chinese individuals, who value low activated positive states such as calmness and peace. For actual

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emotions, Bagozzi, Wong, and Yi (1999) found that among Americans, the intensity of positive and negative emotions were negatively correlated. In contrast, among Chinese and Koreans, these
emotions were positively correlated. That is, East Asians may feel
similar levels of positive and negative emotions at the same time,
whereas Americans tend to have one dominant emotion at a time.
Recent research revealed that cultural differences in mixed emotion depend on the context: North Americans and East Asians
experience similar degrees of mixed emotions in failure situations,
but East Asians were more likely than North Americans to experience mixed emotions in success situations (Leu et al., 2010;
Miyamoto, Uchida, & Ellsworth, 2010).
In addition, there are cultural variations in evaluations of emotions. For example, pride is generally related to feeling good about
oneself, whereas guilt is related to feeling bad about oneself.
Therefore, pride is a positively valenced emotion and guilt is a
negatively valenced emotion. Eid and Diener (2001) found that
people in individualistic cultures evaluated pride as positive and
evaluated guilt as negative. In contrast, individuals in collectivistic
cultures evaluated pride as negative and guilt as a positive or
neutral emotion. Pride signals positive information about oneself
but it may threaten relationship harmony in collectivistic cultures.
In contrast, guilt signals negative information about oneself, but it
also indicates that the individual is aware of his or her shortcomings and is motivated to improve in the future. In East Asian
cultures, most positively valenced emotions are perceived to have
negative aspects, and most negatively valenced emotions are perceived to have some positive aspects as well.
Furthermore, there are cultural differences in the interpretation
and regulation of the same emotion. Cross-cultural studies showed
that people from collectivistic cultures regulate shame differently
than people from individualist cultures (Bagozzi, Verbeke, &
Gavino, 2003). Salesmen from both the Netherlands (an individualistic culture) and the Philippines (a collectivistic culture) experienced shame but reacted to the shame-related situation differently: Dutch salesmen responded with self-protective actions,
resulting in declines in work performance. In contrast, Filipinos
responded with more adaptive actions than Dutch salesmen, such
as building relationships with customers, which led to increases in
work performance. Individuals from collectivistic cultures treat
shame situations as signals for self-improvement and for rebuild-

ing face and relationships with other people. Thus, emotions like
shame, which may be viewed as destructive in individualistic
cultures (see a summary, Leary, 2007), may have a positive impact
on self-regulation for individuals in collectivistic cultures.
In sum, cultural values and practices shape actual and ideal
emotions, along with the evaluation and interpretation of emotions.
The current research focuses on emotional experiences in success
and failure situations and their implications for future selfregulation. Given the cultural differences in evaluations of emotion
described above (Bagozzi, Wong, & Yi, 1999), we first hypothesized that East Asians are more likely than European Americans to
experience mixed emotions in both success and failure situations;
in contrast, European Americans are more likely than East Asians
to experience solely positive emotions in success and solely negative emotions in failure (Hypothesis 1a). Because high activation
emotions are not encouraged in East Asian cultures (Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006), we also predicted that East Asians will report
lower emotional intensity than European Americans (Hypothesis
1b; see Table 1 for a summary of the predictions). Furthermore, we
applied a componential model of emotion to investigate cultural
variations in emotion evaluations and interpretation of success and
failure, as well as the function of emotion in self-regulation.

A Componential Model of Emotions


Many investigators consider emotions to be multicomponent
constructs. Generally speaking, the components involved in emotional experiences include (a) the antecedent event, (b) concerns,
(c) appraisals, (d) physiological changes, (e) action readiness, (f)
emotional behavior, (g) changes in cognitive functioning and beliefs, and (h) regulation (Frijda & Mesquita, 1994; Mesquita, 2001;
Mesquita & Frijda, 1992; Mesquita, Frijda, & Scherer,1997). In
the present study, we investigated two components related to
cultural differences in success and failure circumstances: Concerns
and appraisals. Emotions occur when people assess the antecedent
events as significant to their concerns, and the appraisal of events
may lead to different emotions. Together, concerns and appraisals
may also influence the regulation of behavior (Frijda & Mesquita,
1994). As the appraisals-as-components point of view (Ellsworth
& Scherer, 2003) suggests, people can experience a variety of
emotions after appraisals. Thus, this paper focuses on how differ-

Table 1
Summary of Cultural Differences in Emotions, Related Hypotheses, and Results
Americans
Valence
Intensity
Concerns
Appraisal

Willingness to try again

Positive emotion in successes


Negative emotion in failures
High emotion intensity for both
successes and failures
Concern about personal
achievement
View successes as fair,
controllable, tolerable, beneficial to
goals, enhancing self-esteem, and
personally important
Work hard on success tasks
More likely to try again when they
feel positive emotions

Chinese

Hypotheses

Results

Mixed emotion in both successes


and failures
Emotional intensity subdued

1a

Partially supported

1b

Supported

Concern about events social worth


and impact on others
View both successes and failures as
controllable, fair, tolerable
View failures as beneficial to goals,
and personally important
Work hard on failure tasks
More likely to try again when they
feel mixed emotions

Supported

3a, b, c, d, e, f

Partially supported

4a, b

Partially supported

EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

ent components of emotion, including concerns and appraisals,


influence self-regulation, rather than on the role of specific emotions in self-regulation.

Concerns
Concerns refer to things that are important to people, including
personal or community goals, motives, values, and expectations
(Mesquita, 2001). Emotion emerges and develops when people
feel that their concerns are affected or when the situation is
important to them. The same events may relate to different concerns in different cultural contexts. From the perspective of cultural models of self, people with an interdependent self tend to
emphasize relationship harmony whereas people with an independent self tend to value autonomy (Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
Rothbaum, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, & Weisz, 2000). Therefore, as
also suggested by Mesquita (2001), we expected that East Asians
would be concerned about the social worth of events, whereas
Americans would focus on their personal concerns. More specifically, in both success and failure situations, Chinese were expected to be more likely than Americans to be sensitive to others
opinions about their situations and to rate their personal situation
as influencing their social network (including family, group, and
other close people; Hypothesis 2).

Appraisal
Appraisal refers to cognitive interpretations and evaluations of
events (Mesquita, 2001). It is through appraisal that people make
sense of situations and respond with emotions. Appraisal dimensions are diverse and are used to emphasize different characteristics of emotional events. Appraisals assessed in other studies have
included how pleasant the situation was, whether the situation was
beneficial or problematic for goals, whether the situation was fair
or tolerable and so forth (Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003; Frijda,
Kuipers, & Schure, 1989; Mesquita, 2001; Smith & Ellsworth,
1985). In the current study, we selected eight dimensions which fit
success and failure situations: The degree to which the situation
was pleasant, fair, tolerable,1 and controllable; the amount of effort
expended; its effects on self-esteem change; its influence on future
goals; and its importance to the individual.
How might these appraisals differ across these two cultures?
East Asians tend to be holistic thinkers and engage in dialectical
reasoning; in contrast, Westerners are more likely to be analytical
thinkers and are influenced by formal logic (Nisbett, Peng, Choi,
& Norenzayan, 2001; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). East Asians are more
likely to tolerate contradictions than European Americans and
even prefer arguments that are seemingly opposing but consistent
with holistic ways of thinking (Nisbett et al., 2001). Therefore, we
predicted that East Asians would be more likely than Americans to
interpret a situation as both negative and positive. Although previous studies assessed the appraisal dimension of pleasantness, we
added a separate unpleasantness appraisal item. East Asians were
hypothesized to treat pleasantness and unpleasantness as two different dimensions, whereas Americans were hypothesized to view
them as two extremes of one dimension. We predicted that these
two dimensions would be negatively correlated among Americans
but not among Chinese participants (Hypothesis 3a). Furthermore,
holistic thinking leads Chinese people to tolerate contradictions;

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Chinese people are less likely than their western counterparts to be


surprised by unexpected results that may influence their self-views
(Nisbett et al., 2001). Thus, we predicted Chinese peoples selfesteem would be impacted less than Americans in both success
and failure events (Hypothesis 3b).
Furthermore, Chinese people believe that reality is not static
but dynamic and changeable. They tend to predict changes in
events, especially in a reverse or cyclical pattern (Ji, Nisbett, &
Su, 2001; Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000). Thus, East Asians may
treat a current predicament or failure as temporary rather than
as a perpetual situation and may be less distressed by negative
outcomes than Westerners. Consequently, they may engage in
different appraisals in the face of predicaments. For instance,
Japanese use self-improvement strategies to cope with unhappy
situations (i.e., treating the negative situation as a way to
improve oneself), whereas Americans are more likely to draw
on externalizing behaviors such as aggression to cope with
unhappy situations (Uchida & Kitayama, 2009). East Asians
may be likely to evaluate a negative situation as an opportunity
to change oneself rather than as an unchangeable threat to
oneself. Thus, we also expected that American and Chinese
participants would appraise success and failure events differently on various dimensions. More specifically, we anticipated
that Chinese participants would be more likely than Americans
to emphasize how the success event may also create problems
or impediments for their goals and how the failure may have
beneficial effects on their goals (Hypothesis 3c). Americans
were also predicted to expend less effort and to view a failure
as less tolerable than Chinese, but we expected no cultural
differences for effort and tolerance for the success event (Hypothesis 3d). As mentioned above, Americans are more likely to
make self-serving attributions: They tend to attribute their successes to personal effort but not their failures. Therefore, Americans were expected to rate the success as more controllable and
fairer but the failure as less controllable and more unfair than
Chinese (Hypothesis 3e). Finally, as shown in previous research
(Heine et al., 2001), we expected Americans to rate the success
event as more important to themselves than Chinese. On the
other hand, we expected Chinese to rate the failure event as
more important than Americans (Hypothesis 3f).

Self-Regulation and Willingness To Try Again


In addition to cultural differences in emotional components, we
also expected that Americans would report greater willingness to
repeat a successful task, but lower willingness to repeat a failed
task, compared with the Chinese (Hypothesis 4a). Persistence at a
frustrating task has been widely used to measure self-regulation
(e.g., Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice, 1998; Tice,
Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007), and measures of individuals willingness to engage in a task are powerful predictors of
behavior over time and are not closely linked to specific circumstances (Gibbons, Gerrard, Blanton, & Russell, 1998). Thus, we
adopted the construct of willingness to persist on a task as an
indicator of self-regulation.
1

We adapted the tolerance dimension from Frijda, Kuipers, & ter


Schures (1989) work in which it was called bearable.

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870

Furthermore, we hypothesized that emotional valence, intensity,


and other components would predict willingness to try again. We
also anticipated that the relation between emotion characteristics
and willingness to try again would be moderated by culture. That
is, the pattern of emotional characteristics and components predicting willingness to try again were expected to be different
among Americans and Chinese. For example, we expected that
Chinese would be more willing to try again when the event
enhanced interpersonal relationships. In contrast, we expected
Americans would be more willing to try again when they felt
positive emotions or when the event boosted others opinions of
them (Hypothesis 4b).
In sum, we expected that cultural differences existed in a variety
of aspects of emotional experiences, including valence, intensity,
concerns, and appraisals. Moreover, we predicted that emotion and
culture together played important roles in regulating future behaviors, with a focus on the willingness to try the task again.

Overview
The current study investigated cultural differences in emotional
experiences in response to success and failure events and explored
how emotional experiences were associated with self-regulation
intentions in two cultural groups. American and Chinese participants were invited to the lab to recall past success and failure
experiences. Participants then reported their emotional responses
to these events and completed measures of concerns, appraisals,
and willingness to try the same task again in the future.

Method
Participants and Design
Participants were 146 American students at Iowa State University who received one credit in their psychology course for their
participation and 94 Chinese students at Iowa State University who
received a small monetary compensation for their participation.
Forty-eight percent of the American participants were male and
62.4% of the Chinese participants were male. The average age of
American students (M 19.88, SD 2.17) was significantly
lower than that of Chinese students (M 25.80, SD 3.78), F(1,
234) 237.57, p .01. Thus, age was controlled in all the
analyses as a covariate.
The design included one within-subject factor: The success or
failure event. All participants were asked to complete questionnaires for both success and failure events, but their order was
counterbalanced. Analyses showed that there was no order effect
on the results. Another between-subjects factor was culture: American or Chinese. Thus, this was a 2 (culture) 2 (event type)
factorial design.

Procedure
All the questionnaires were translated into simplified Chinese
for Chinese participants. Back translation was applied to make sure
that the Chinese version was equivalent to the English version.
Thus, all participants read and completed the questionnaires in
their first language.

Participants were placed in individual cubicles that contained


a computer. Participants were first told that the purpose of the
study was to examine peoples memories of personal events.
First, participants were asked to recall personal experiences:
Please think back over your life, and try to recall some
successes or failures in your academic life and in other domains. Please try to recall success or failure events since high
school. Please recall as many memories as you can in five
minutes. When a memory is formed, write down some words or
short phrases that will remind you, if read later, of which
memory you brought to mind. Please write down the first things
that come to your mind. Do not censor or reject any of your
memories. It is important that you should recall both successes
and failures. After the time is up, we will ask you to go back to
your memories and answer some questions. Then participants
were asked to choose the most important success and failure
event. They were then asked to provide detailed information
about these two events with the following questions: Who was
involved? Was it a public event that was known to others or
only known to yourself?; How did the event make you feel?;
What did you think about this event?; Why did you think the
event happened to you?; What was your reaction to this
event?; What were some of the consequences of this event?;
Was it a significant event in your life? Why? Why not? After
that, participants were asked to complete the other questionnaires concerning their primary emotions including valence,
intensity, emotion components, and willingness to try again.
Finally, participants also completed demographic items.

Measures
Memory and emotion characteristics. For each success or
failure event, participants were asked to report their primary emotions in the event and the valence and the intensity of the emotions.
Participants chose the valence from four categories: Positive, negative, neutral, or mixed emotions. The intensity of the emotions
was rated on a seven-point scale ranging from 1 a little to 7
very much. In addition, participants were asked to rate how frequently they thought and talked about this emotion after each event
on a five-point scale ranging from 1 none to 5 very much to
indicate their emotion intensity indirectly.
Emotion components. Seven questions (rated on a sevenpoint scale ranging from 1 not at all to 7 very much) were
designed to examine cultural differences in concerns (see Appendix). The questions were framed to fit the success or failure
situations. For example, participants were asked to rate the extent
to which they thought the event made close others feel proud of
them for the success event, whereas they were asked to rate the
extent to which the event made close others feel disappointed in
them for the failure event.
The appraisal measure consisted of 11 items, rated on a sevenpoint scale ranging from 1 not at all to 7 very much. The
items were based on previous work on cultural differences in
emotions (Frijda, Kuipers, & ter Schure, 1989; Mesquita, 2001).
We revised and added some new items to further investigate
cultural differences and to fit the purpose of the present research.
There were seven dimensions for both success and failure events:
Pleasantness, self-esteem change, benefits and problems for future

EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

871

in the success event and negative emotions in the failure event, but
Chinese were expected to experience more mixed emotions than
Americans in both success and failure situations. For the success
event, Chinese and Americans selected similar emotions from the
four options (positive, negative, neutral, or mixed), 2(3, n
237) 2.77, ns. Most Chinese and Americans reported that
positive emotions were their primary emotions in success situations (72.5%CH vs. 78.8%aAM). For the failure event, however, the
Chinese and Americans reported different valences, 2(3, n
235) 10.98, p .05. A greater proportion of Americans (81.4%)
than Chinese (63.3%) indicated that their primary emotion was
negative. Further tests showed that theres no cultural difference in
reporting mixed emotions (16.7%CH vs. 11.0%AM), 2(1, n
235) 1.54, ns. More Chinese participants reported mixed emotions (16.7%CH vs. 11.0%AM), neutral emotions (11.1%CH vs.
3.4%AM) and positive emotions (8.9%CH vs. 4.1%AM) than did
Americans (Hypothesis 1a).
For intensity level, as seen in Table 2, Americans reported
higher emotional intensity than Chinese for failure events but not
for success events, Fsuccess (1, 231) 1.71, ns., Ffailure (1, 229)
5.53, p .05. Additionally, Americans were more likely than
Chinese to think and talk about their emotions in the success event
(although it was marginally significant for talking about the emotions), Fthinking (1, 231) 4.39, p .05, Ftalking (1, 231) 3.41,
p .07. Americans were also more likely than Chinese to think
and talk about the emotions for the failure event, Fthinking (1,
229) 7.48, p .01, Ftalking (1, 229) 5.37, p .05. The results
for the primary emotions valence and intensity were consistent
with our hypotheses that Chinese reported a greater variety of

goals, effort, tolerance, control, fairness, and importance (see


Appendix). Where necessary, the items were rephrased to fit the
success or failure situation.
Self-regulation. To assess participants willingness to persist
on the task, they were asked how much they felt like doing the
same task again. The statement was accompanied by a scale
ranging from 1 not at all 7 very much.

Results
Overview of Analyses
We first report cultural differences in characteristics of the
primary emotions experienced in the recalled memories. Chisquare tests were used to examine the hypothesis that Americans
and Chinese reported different valences for their primary emotions. Next, ANCOVAs were used to examine cultural differences
in measures of emotion intensity, concern, and appraisal for both
success and failure events. Next, we report the results of hierarchical regressions for culture, emotional components, and their
interactions in predicting willingness to try the same task again.
List-wise deletion was used to deal with missing data so that there
were small variations in the degrees of freedom in the results.
Again, age was controlled in all analyses as a covariate.

Characteristics of Primary Emotions


We hypothesized that people with different cultural backgrounds may experience different emotions despite similar circumstances. We expected Americans to experience positive emotions

Table 2
Means and Standard Deviations for the Measures of Emotional Intensity and Appraisal Dimensions in Primary Emotions as a
Function of Event Type and Culture
Independent variables
Success
American
Dependent measures
Emotional intensity
Intensity
Think about
Talk about
Appraisal
Change in self-esteem
Effort
Tolerance
Actor-control
Other-control
Fairness
Personal importance
Willingness to try again

Failure

Chinese

American

Chinese

SE

SE

2p

SE

SE

2p

4.31a
3.72a
3.17a

.07
.09
.11

4.13a
3.36b
2.78a

.10
.12
.15

.01
.02
.02

4.27a
3.68a
2.78a

.09
.10
.11

3.85b
3.16b
2.28b

.13
.14
.15

.03
.03
.02

5.93a
5.63a
5.92a
5.14a
3.68a
5.99a
6.30a
5.07a

.15
.14
.13
.17
.19
.14
.10
.21

5.21b
5.64a
5.99a
5.11a
2.86b
5.83a
6.07a
4.02b

.21
.19
.18
.24
.27
.19
.14
.29

.03
.00
.00
.00
.02
.00
.01
.03

4.08a
5.35a
4.48a
3.46a
4.12a
3.80a
5.69a
3.16a

.19
.15
.16
.20
.20
.20
.14
.24

3.24b
5.46a
5.28b
4.79b
2.98b
4.49a
5.40a
4.10a

.26
.21
.22
.28
.29
.28
.20
.34

.02
.00
.03
.05
.03
.01
.00
.02

Note. Cultural comparisons are within success or failure event. Differing subscripts indicate a significant difference between American and Chinese at
p .05. NAM 143145, NCH 82 87. Change in self-esteem to what extent did you feel the situation enhanced (decreased) your self-esteem? Effort
how much effort (mental or physical) did you feel this situation required you to expend? Tolerance to what extent did you feel you could bear the
situation? Actor-control to what extent do you feel that you had the ability to influence what was happening in this situation? Other-control to what
extent do you feel that someone other than yourself was controlling what was happening in this situation? Fairness to what extent fair did you think this
event was? Personal Importance to what extent did you feel that the event was important to you? Try Again to what extent did you feel like trying
this task again?

ZHANG AND CROSS

872

3.71, p .06, 2p .02, and that their personal success enhanced


others respect for their family more, F(1, 231) 19.82, p .01,
2p .08. For the failure event, Chinese participants were slightly
more likely than Americans to feel others thought they were a
loser, F(1, 230) 2.86, p .09, 2p .01, but no significant
cultural differences for any of the other individual concern measures were found, despite a significant two-way interaction. Therefore, in partial support of our hypotheses for concerns, Chinese
perceived their personal successes as having more influence on
others, especially their families, than did Americans (Hypothesis
2).

emotions for failures and reported lower emotion intensity than did
Americans (Hypothesis 1b).

Measures of Concerns
Given their tendency to develop highly interdependent selfconstruals, Chinese were expected be more likely to pay attention
to others opinions, including close others and acquaintances,
about their successes and failures. Chinese were also expected to
believe that their personal events could influence their in-groups.
Thus, we hypothesized that Americans and Chinese would rate the
concern measures for success and failure events differently.
One 2 (success vs. failure) 2 (American vs. Chinese) 7
(concern measures) ANCOVA with concern measure and event
type as within-subject factors and with age as a covariate was
conducted. A three-way interaction between event type, culture,
and concern measures was found, F(6, 218) 2.11, p .05, 2p
.06. To disentangle the three-way interaction, two 2 (American vs.
Chinese) 7 (concern measures) ANCOVAs with concern measure as a within-subject factor were conducted for success and
failure events separately. There were interaction effects between
culture and concerns for both success and failure events, Fsuccess
(6, 224) 4.46, p .01; 2p .11, Ffailure (6, 227) 2.20, p
.05, 2p .06. As seen in Figure 1, the patterns of ratings were
different for American and Chinese participants. For the success
event, Chinese participants were more likely than Americans to
think that the event made close others feel proud of them, F(1,
231) 3.55, p .06, 2p .02, that their personal success made
others jealous or envious, F(1, 231) 18.96, p .01, 2p .08,
that the event made others think they were a success, F(1, 231)

Measures of Appraisal
We hypothesized that the main cultural differences lie in the
pattern of appraisals for success and failure situations. Thus, we
conducted ANCOVAs separately for each appraisal dimension to
investigate the patterns of relations between event type (success or
failure) and culture.
To determine whether these appraisal dimensions were distinct
from each other, we first examined the correlations between the
appraisal dimensions. The range of correlation coefficients were
from .44 to .46. Most of the correlation coefficients were between .30 to .30. For success events, five correlation coefficients
were greater than .40: fairness was moderately correlated with
self-esteem change, goal conduciveness, and a sense of control,
rs .41, .46, and .42, respectively (all ps .01); pleasantness
was negatively correlated with unpleasantness, r .42 (p
.01), and was positively correlated with self-esteem change, r
.40 (p .01). For failure events, two correlation coefficients were

Extent

jealous/
proud/
disappointed gloat over
Success-American
Success
e ca

success/
loser

respect for respect for respect for


group
you
family

Success-Chinese
Success
C ese

Failure-American
a ue
e ca

distance

Failure-Chinese
a u e C ese

Figure 1. Repeated measures of concern measures for American and Chinese for the success and failure event.
Proud/disappointed the event made close others (family members, your teacher or your close friends) feel
proud of [disappointed at] you; jealous/gloat over the event made others jealous or envious [gloat over you];
success/loser the event made others (acquaintances) think that you were a success [loser]; respect for group
the event enhanced [decreased] others respect for the group (the most salient group in that situation) to which
you belonged; respect for you the event raised [decreased] the respect that others had for you; respect for
family the event enhanced [decreased] others respect for your family; distance the event influenced your
distance from others (high score means closer). Terms in brackets were used for the failure event.

EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

greater than .40: pleasantness was negatively correlated with unpleasantness, r .44 (p .01), and the benefits and problems
dimensions for goal conduciveness were negatively correlated, r
.44 (p .01). Correlations were also conducted for American
and Chinese groups separately. No correlation coefficients greater
than these were found except for those between pleasantness and
unpleasantness among Americans. Thus, the appraisal dimensions
used in the current study were distinct dimensions.
For the pleasantness and unpleasantness dimensions, we first
tested whether the relation between pleasantness and unpleasantness was the same among the two cultures. For the success event,
the correlations between the two dimensions for American and
Chinese participants were similar: rs .47AM (p .01) and
.37CH (p .01), z .86, ns. For the failure event, in contrast,
the correlations between the two dimensions for American and
Chinese participants were significantly different: rs .58AM
(p .01) and .18CH (ns), z 3.53, p .05. There was a strong
negative correlation between those two dimensions for Americans
but not for Chinese, for whom the two dimensions were only
weakly correlated. This suggests that pleasantness and unpleasantness can be two orthogonal dimensions rather than two ends of one
continuous dimension for Chinese. Chinese participants, who have
been described as dialectical thinkers, were more likely to have
both pleasant and unpleasant experiences in the failure event,
providing partial support for Hypothesis 3a.
For the appraisal of self-esteem change, we expected that Americans self-esteem would change more than that of Chinese in
response to both success and failure events (Hypothesis 3b). Participants were more likely to report self-esteem change for the
success event than the failure event (as seen in Table 2), F(1,
224) 10.35, p .05, 2p .02. Furthermore, Americans were
more likely to report self-esteem change than Chinese, F(1, 224)
10.56, p .01, 2p .05.
Chinese participants, who tend to be characterized as dialectical
thinkers, were expected to think more about the negative aspects of
success events and positive aspects of failure events than were
Americans. Thus, Chinese might be more likely than Americans to
report that the success event had negative effects on their future
goals and that the failure event had positive effects on their future

goals (Hypothesis 3c). One 2 (American vs. Chinese) 2 (success


vs. failure) 2 (benefits vs. problems for future goals) ANCOVA
with event type and goal as within-subject factors and with age as
a covariate was conducted to examine cultural differences in the
emotion appraisal of the benefits and problems dimensions. There
was a significant three-way interaction, F(1, 223) 7.00, p .05,
2p .03 (see Figure 2). Compared with Chinese participants,
Americans were more likely to think there were fewer problems to
be solved in success events, F(1, 230) 2.85, p .09, 2p .01.
In contrast, Americans tended to think the failure event would be
less beneficial to their goals than Chinese did, F(1, 228) 6.45,
p .05, 2p .03, although participants from both groups felt
similarly that there were a lot of problems to be solved, F(1,
228) .53, ns.
We expected that Americans would report that they had expended less effort than Chinese for the failure event but more
effort for the success event. Similarly, Americans were expected to
be less likely than Chinese to view the failure situation as tolerable
(Hypothesis 3d). The results showed that there was no interaction
between culture and event type for the dimension of effort, F(1,
225) .13, ns. There was a significant interaction between culture
and event type for tolerance, F(1, 225) 3.95, p .05, 2p .02.
Americans reported a lower level of tolerance for the failure event
than did Chinese, F(1, 229) 6.71, p .05; Americans and
Chinese reported similar levels of tolerance for the success event,
F(1, 230) .07, ns.
For the appraisal of control and fairness, we hypothesized that
Americans would be more likely than Chinese to think the success
event was controllable and fair and the failure event was uncontrollable and unfair (Hypothesis 3e). Two items assessed controllability: whether participants felt that they controlled (actorcontrol) or others controlled the events. One 2 (American vs.
Chinese) 2 (success vs. failure) 2 (actor-control vs. othercontrol) ANCOVA with event type and control as within-subject
factors and with age as a covariate was conducted to examine
cultural differences in the appraisal of the control dimensions.
There was a marginally significant three-way interaction, F(1,
225) 3.41, p .07, 2p .02. As shown in Table 2, Americans
and Chinese reported similar levels of actor-control for success

Failure
6.5

5.5

5.5

Extent

Extentt

Success
6.5

4.5
4

4.5
4

3.5

3.5

2.5

2.5

Benefit
American

Problem
Chinese

873

Benefit
American

Problem
Chinese

Figure 2. Three-way interaction of benefits and problems for goal conduciveness dimension for Americans
(n 144) and Chinese (n 85) for success and failure events.

874

ZHANG AND CROSS

events, F(1, 231) .01, ns, but Americans reported higher levels
of other-control than Chinese, F(1, 231) 4.45, p .05. In the
failure events, Americans reported lower levels of actor-control,
F(1, 228) 11.29, p .01, and higher levels of other-control than
Chinese, F(1, 229) 8.01, p .01. For the dimension of fairness,
there was a marginally significant interaction effect between culture and event type, F(1, 224) 3.65, p .06, 2p .02.
Americans and Chinese reported similar levels of fairness for the
success event, F(1, 230) .35, ns, but Americans reported lower
fairness than Chinese for the failure event, F(1, 228) 3.19, p
.08, 2p .02. Both American and Chinese participants perceived
successes as fairer than failures, F(1, 224) 5.04, p .05, 2p
.02.
We hypothesized that Americans would rate the success event
as more important than Chinese, whereas Chinese would rate the
failure event as more important than Americans (Hypothesis 3f).
No interaction between culture and event type was found in the
rating of personal importance, F(1, 226) .01, ns. The similarity
in importance ratings may be attributable to the instructions that
asked participants to pick their most important success/failure
experience.

Willingness To Try Again


Do these emotion evaluations (valence, intensity, concerns, and
appraisals) influence self-regulation differently for Americans and
Chinese? To test whether these emotion evaluations would predict
willingness to try again differently for these two groups, we
conducted hierarchical regressions predicting willingness to try
again separately for success and failure events and for the different
evaluations. Effect coding was used for the categorical variable of
culture. Specifically, the American group was coded as 1 and the
Chinese group was coded as 1. Culture and age were entered at
Step 1, and emotional components were entered at Step 2, followed by the interaction terms at Step 3. If there was a significant
interaction effect involving culture, emotion components were
analyzed separately for Americans and Chinese. Thus, the results
for the first step were the same: Americans were more likely than
Chinese to try again for the success event, .23, p .05; no
age effect was found in predicting willingness to try again for
success events, .11, ns. The total variance (R2) accounted for
at Step 1 was .03, p .05. There was also a cultural difference in
willingness to try the failed task again: Chinese were more likely
than Americans to try again for failure events, .19, p .05;
no age effect was found in predicting willingness to try again for
failure events, .17, ns. The total variance (R2) accounted for
at Step 1 was .02, ns. (Means for willingness to try again are
presented in Table 2).
Primary emotion. Do emotion valence and intensity predict
willingness to try again? Effect coding was used for the valence of
the primary emotion. Participants who reported positive emotion
were treated as the reference group. Culture and age were entered
in the regression model at Step 1. Valence and the intensity of the
primary emotions were entered in the regression model at Step 2.
For the success event, emotional valence and intensity did not
predict willingness to try the same success task again: R2 .04,
ns. Moreover, the relations between emotion characteristics and
willingness were similar for the two cultural groups: The interaction terms were also not significant, R2 .01, ns. For the failure

event, as seen in Table 3, the valence and intensity of the emotions


explained 8% of the variance beyond the culture and age effect.
Intensity was a significant individual predictor for willingness to
try the failed task again. Specifically, the lower emotion intensity
participants reported, the more they would like to try the same task
again in the future. Moreover, the interaction between culture and
different valence of emotions was also significant. Multiple regressions for valence and intensity of the primary emotion were
conducted separately for American and Chinese groups. American
participants who reported negative or mixed emotions were less
willing to try the same task again, but those who reported neutral
emotions were more willing to try the task again. In contrast,
Chinese participants who reported neutral emotions were less
willing to try again but those who reported mixed emotions were
more willing to try again. No effect was found between those who
reported positive or negative emotions. The results imply that
perceived emotion valence and intensity may affect the tendency
to persist. In particular, American and Chinese participants showed
different levels of willingness to persist even when they experienced emotion of the same valence.
Concern measures.
Culture and age were entered in the
regression model at Step 1. All seven concern questions were
entered into the regression at the second step and the set of
interaction terms were entered at the third step. As shown in Table
4, the set of concern items explained a significant proportion of
variance in willingness to try again for the success event. The
interaction between culture and concerns was marginally significant. Multiple regressions were conducted separately for American
and Chinese groups. Americans were more willing to try the
success task again if they felt the event made others respect their
group, which was unexpectedly not the case for Chinese. Chinese
participants, on the other hand, were more willing to try the task
again if they believed the event made them closer to others, which
was not true for Americans.
For the failure event, the set of concern items was significant,
R2 .07, p .05, but the set of interaction terms was not, R2
.03, ns. For the entire sample, participants were less willing to try
the task again if they felt the event made others gloat over them

Table 3
Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Valence and Intensity
Variables Predicting Willingness To Try Again for the Failure
Event (n 227)
Entire sample
Variables
Step 2
Negative emotion
Neutral emotion
Mixed emotion
Intensity
Step 3
Culture Negative
Culture Neutral
Culture Mixed
Culture Intensity

.10
.01
.02
.25

R2
.08

.04

.20
.21
.17
.02

Note. American 1, Chinese 1.

p .10. p .05. p .01.

American

Chinese

.22
.20
.19
.26

R2
.12

R2
.12

.02
.24
.16
.30

EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

875

Table 4
Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Concern Variables Predicting Willingness To Try Again
for the Success Event (n 231)
Entire sample
Variables
Step 2
Close other proud
Others jealous
Success
Respect for group
Respect for you
Respect for family
Closer to others
Step 3
Culture Close other proud
Culture Others jealous
Culture Success
Culture Respect for group
Culture Respect for you
Culture Respect for family
Culture Closer to others

.18
.10
.23
.29
.02
.00
.00

American

R2
.11

.05

.22
.07
.26
.36
.03
.07
.10

Chinese
R2

.20

R2

.08
.17
.28
.07
.04
.03
.31

.13

.18
.13
.01
.37
.02
.00
.62

Note. American 1, Chinese 1. Close other proud the event made close others (family members, your
teacher or your close friends) feel proud of you; Others jealous the event made others jealous or envious;
Success the event made others (acquaintances) think that you were a success; Respect for group the event
enhance others respect for the group (the most salient group in that situation) to which you belonged; Respect
for you the event raise the respect that others had for you; Respect for family the event enhance others
respect for your family; Closer to others the event influence your distance from others (high score means
closer).

p .10. p .05. p .01.

( .19, p .05) or if the event decreased others respect for


their family ( .19, p .05).
Appraisal measures. For the success event, the set of appraisal items was significant, R2 .11, p .01, and the set of
interaction terms was marginally significant in predicting willingness to try again. Multiple regressions were conducted separately
for American and Chinese groups. As seen in Table 5, Chinese
were more willing to try the success task again if it enhanced their
self-esteem more, which was not true for Americans. Moreover,
Americans were more willing to try the task again when they
expended more effort for the success event. Chinese participants,
on the other hand, were more willing to try the task again when
they felt they expended less effort.
For the failure event, the set of appraisal items was significant,
R2 .11, p .05, but the set of interaction effects was not,
R2 .03, ns. For the entire sample, participants were less willing
to try the failed task again when the failures were rated as unpleasant ( .22, p .05) but were more willing to try again
when the failures were rated as tolerable ( .14, p .06).
As predicted, Americans were more willing than Chinese to try
again on successful tasks, whereas Chinese were more willing than
American to try again on failed tasks. In addition, the emotion
evaluations also predicted willingness to try again when the cultural effect was controlled. Culture moderated the association
between type of emotions experienced (neutral, mixed) and willingness to try again for failed tasks. There were also cultural
differences in the relations of concerns and appraisals to willingness for the success tasks.

Discussion
According to Mesquita (2001), cultural comparisons should be
based on cultural theories and systematic hypotheses inferred from
these theories. In this study, predictions of cultural differences
were made on the basis of cultural theories of independent versus
interdependent self-construal, analytic versus holistic ways of
thinking, and ideal affect theory (see Table 1 for a summary;
Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Nisbett et al., 2001; Tsai, 2007). The
present investigation began with a question about the association
between emotions and self-regulation in specific cultural contexts.
In specific, we asked: (a) Do American and Chinese participants
experience emotions differently within self-relevant success and
failure situations? (b) Do emotion evaluations contribute to regulation intentions for the future behavior differently for Americans
and Chinese? The answers are yes and no. This study found both
cultural differences as well as cross-cultural similarities in emotional experiences and in how emotional components influence
self-regulation intentions.

Cultural and Emotion After Success


and Failure Events
Several cross-cultural similarities emerged in this study. As
shown in Figure 1, although we expected that cultural values may
shape peoples evaluations of success and failure events, the patterns of concern ratings were similar among these two cultures,
especially for the failure event. Moreover, cross-cultural similarities were also observed in the ratings of appraisal items, such as

ZHANG AND CROSS

876

Table 5
Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Appraisal Variables Predicting Willingness To Try Again for the Success Event (n 231)
Entire sample
Variables
Step 2
Pleasantness
Unpleasantness
Self-esteem change
Benefits to goals
Problems to goals
Effort
Tolerance
Actor-control
Other-control
Fairness
Personal importance
Step 3
Culture Pleasantness
Culture Unpleasantness
Culture Self-esteem change
Culture Benefits to goals
Culture Problems to goals
Culture Effort
Culture Tolerance
Culture Actor-control
Culture Other-control
Culture Fairness
Culture Personal importance

American
R

.11
.05
.01
.17
.09
.05
.07
.08
.09
.01
.16
.19

.07

Chinese
R

.19
.01
.01
.05
.13
.01
.17
.09
.17
.03
.29
.12

R2
.19

.04
.13
.44
.03
.09
.25
.03
.02
.10
.14
.29

.04
.11
.67
.29
.11
.83
.24
.28
.13
.35
.31

Note. American 1, Chinese 1. See Appendix for the items.

p .10. p .05. p .01.

effort, tolerance, and fairness for the success event. According to


cross-cultural theory of appraisal, cultural differences in emotional
experiences can be explained by the differences in appraisals
(called universal contingency hypothesis; Ellsworth & Scherer,
2003; Mesquita & Ellsworth, 2001; Mauro, Sato, & Tucker, 1992;
Roseman, Dhawan, Rettek, Naidu, & Thapa, 1995). That is, if
people from different cultures appraise the situation similarly, they
should experience similar emotions. In the current study, American and Chinese participants reported similar emotion valences for
the success event, which is consistent with the cross-cultural
similarities in the appraisal items. In contrast, for the failure
events, cultural differences in emotion valence emerged, which is
also consistent with the cultural differences in appraisal items.
Future studies should measure specific emotions in each situation
to test the hypothesis of universal contingencies (Mesquita &
Ellsworth, 2001).
Cultural differences were also found in emotion valence, intensity, and in emotional components. Americans experienced more
intense emotions than Chinese, and they thought and talked more
about their emotions; in contrast, Chinese had more relational
concerns about others reactions and about the influence of the
event on their families than did Americans. Our study did not find
cultural differences in mixed emotions in success situations but
revealed that Chinese were less likely than Americans to report
negative emotions in failure situations. These results are inconsistent with previous studies on cultural differences in mixed emotions which found cultural differences in success rather than failure
situations (Leu et al., 2010; Miyamoto, Uchida, & Ellsworth,
2010). In previous studies, participants were asked to rate the

extent to which they felt specific positive emotion and negative


emotions, and an index of mixed emotions was created from these
ratings. It is possible that participants respond differently when
they are asked to select from four options (positive, negative,
neutral, and mixed), as in our study. In our study, for both Americans and Chinese, the direct emotional reaction to the success
event was positive feelings. In the previous studies, however,
Chinese may have engaged in dialectical thinking when they were
asked to rate how much they felt negative emotions in the success
event. Consequently, they may have been more likely than Americas to report both positive and negative emotions (i.e., mixed
emotions) in these events.
The results illustrate how cultural values and cultural practice
affect different components of the emotion process. First, sociocultural influence occurs by providing meaning and significance
for the emotional situations. For instance, collectivistic cultures
place more emphasis on family values whereas individualistic
cultures highlight personal achievement and self-actualization
(Markus & Kitayma, 1991). Chinese individuals perceive personal
success and failure events as important to their families wellbeing and may experience the feelings not only because the event
affected their own personal achievement, but also because it affected relationship harmony or others respect for the whole family. Americans, assumed to be individualistic, tend to have a clear
boundary between self and others, and they are less likely to have
concerns for family or others because of their own achievement.
Moreover, perspectives on the situations are believed to be different for individualists and collectivists: Individualists take an
inside-out perspective by assessing the situation from their own

EMOTIONS IN MEMORIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

point of view; collectivists take an outside-in perspective by


interpreting the situation through others perspectives (Mesquita &
Leu, 2007). For instance, individualists tend to make egocentric
projections of emotions to make sense of an ambiguous environment; they read expressions using their own emotions. In contrast,
collectivists tend to make relational projections of emotions; they
read ambiguous expressions using complementary emotions (Cohen & Gunz, 2002). This is also reflected in the current study:
Chinese participants were more likely than Americans to indicate
that others would be envious or jealous of their success. Chinese
projected complementary emotions to others: I feel happy about
my success, therefore you must be jealous! Our results also
corroborate previous findings: East Asians are more likely than
Americans to attribute responsibility to themselves for other peoples feelings (Miyamoto, Uchida, & Ellsworth, 2010).
Second, sociocultural contexts influence the cognitive appraisal
of the emotions. Americans appraised their emotion in a selfserving way. They rated the success event as fairer and the failure
event as less controllable and less fair than did Chinese. Consistent
with the analytic thinking system (Peng & Nisbett, 1999), Americans experiences of pleasantness and unpleasantness were negatively correlated for both success and failure events. In contrast,
Chinese represent positive and negative emotions in a dialectical
and circular way. Chinese are more likely to sense the dynamics,
forecast a change, and perceive benefits from temporary difficulties (Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001). Consistent with this, Chinese evaluations of the pleasantness and unpleasantness of the failure situations were uncorrelated, and they viewed the failure situations as
benefiting their goals more than did Americans.
Third, sociocultural contexts shape emotional processes by providing normative modes of emotion expression and behavioral
tendencies. Cultural practices provide people with a repertoire of
normative schema and scripts for situations so that their emotional
expressions and behavioral tendencies are within the range of
proper reactions. First, Chinese reported lower emotion intensity
than Americans for both success and failure events. As described
above, expression of highly activated emotions are not preferred or
promoted in East Asian cultures. For example, one of Japanese
mothers main tasks is to keep their children quiet so that they do
not bother others and interrupt the social harmony (Rothbaum et
al., 2000). Furthermore, this study reveals that Americans tend to
think more and talk more about their emotions than Chinese. In
individualistic cultures, it is worth the time and energy to analyze
ones own and others emotions because emotions are considered
to reflect ones internal states, preferences, and wishes. Westerners
use emotions to differentiate themselves from others and to initiate
and affect social relations (Bagozzi, Wong, & Yi, 1999). In contrast, in collectivistic cultures, ones own emotions are not considered as important as in individualistic cultures. In collectivistic
cultures, what I feel is not important, but what others feel and
what others feel about me are important and are given attention.

Emotion and Self-Regulation Within Cultural Context


The regression results illustrate cross-cultural similarity in the association of emotion components with self-regulation. For instance,
intensity, concerns, and appraisals of emotion predicted willingness to
try the failure task again: both American and Chinese participants
were more willing to try the failure task again if they felt the situation

877

was tolerable. They were, however, less willing to try the failure task
again if they reported high emotion intensity.
The findings also show the different associations between emotion
and self-regulation for these cultural groups. Previous work on emotion and culture focused on how cultural practices influence emotion
experiences or ideal emotional feelings but not on how emotions
affect self-regulation (Kitayama, Mesquita, & Karasawa, 2006; Mesquita, 1997, 2001; Tsai, 2007). Furthermore, other work has focused
on motivational and cognitive explanations of culturally constructed
behavioral patterns such as persistence (Heine et al., 2001). In this
study, we added emotion into the framework of culture and selfregulation. We argue that cultural norms and practice shape the way
we feel, and emotion in turn influences behavioral tendencies and
self-regulation.
For example, there were cultural differences in the association
of the valence of emotion with self-regulation for the failure event.
American participants who reported negative emotion were less
willing to try the task again, whereas negative emotion was unrelated to willingness to try again for Chinese. Americans who
reported mixed emotions were less willing, whereas those who
reported neutral emotions were more willing to try the task again.
In contrast, Chinese participants who reported mixed emotions
were more willing whereas those who reported neutral emotions
were less willing to try the failed task again. It is likely that
American participants followed their feelings to indicate their
willingness to continue working on the failure task or not: It is not
fun, so I do not want to continue. Chinese participants who felt
that the failure task was both good and bad were willing to
continue, expecting that good results may happen afterward. This
is consistent with feedback system of emotion: retrospective emotions help people learn from past experiences (Baumeister, Vohs,
DeWall, & Zhang, 2007). The facilitation of learning by emotion,
however, is susceptible to interpretation and reappraisal within the
context of culture. Whereas negative and mixed emotions in American culture may indicate stop trying, they may suggest continue working so that things may turn better in Chinese culture.
One limitation of the current study is that we did not measure
each emotional experience directly. Although we asked participants to report their primary emotion and measured the components for the emotion, no ratings of each specific emotion (such as
happiness or surprise) were obtained. Future research should investigate how cultural differences in evaluations of emotional
components may lead to specific emotions, which in turn account
for cultural differences in self-regulation.

Methodological Issues
Sampling of participants. All the participants were sampled
from the same university in the United States. One potential issue
is that Americans and Chinese participants represent two different
groups in the two cultures: Undergraduate students in the United
States and graduate students from China. To our knowledge,
however, no other theoretical or empirical evidence suggests that
cultural differences can be explained by differences in years of
higher education. Furthermore, we expect that cultural differences
would be larger if we sampled undergraduate students in China.
Chinese graduate students who have been studying in the United
States for some time likely become more westernized because of
exposure to an individualist culture. Moreover, Chinese students

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ZHANG AND CROSS

who choose to study abroad may be more independent than those


who choose to stay at home for their education.
Measurement equivalence and response bias. One of the
major methodological issues of comparing two or more cultures is
measure equivalence: whether the measure means the same thing
among different cultures (van de Vijver, Fons, & Leung, 2001).
Participants from different cultures may use different reference
groups when responding to subjective likert scales (Heine, Lehman, Peng, & Greenholtz, 2002). In this study, the aim was to
contrast response patterns between two cultures across two situations: success versus failure events. We did not attempt to describe
cultural differences in means as much as to examine the pattern of
differences across situations and the associations between emotion
evaluations and willingness to try again. As seen in Table 2,
several interactions between event and culture for emotion components were found. Thus, the reference group effect and response
bias were not major issues in our study.
Self-report methods. The results of our study are based on
participants self-report of previous life events. Memories can be
reconstructed in light of cultural theories of emotion or other cultural
values. It is a good strategy to analyze autobiographical memories
because the reconstruction of memories may make the cultural effects
more salient than online experiences. It is possible that, however,
there is more variation in self-report data than in an experiment. Other
researchers suggest using hypothetical situations collected from both
cultures so that all the participants receive the same stimuli (Imada &
Ellsworth, in press; Miyamoto, Uchida, & Ellsworth, 2010). The
problem with that approach is that participants may not have experienced similar events and their self-report may reflect their judgments
based on social norms rather than their actual feelings. Another way
to measure emotion experiences is to use experimental designs to
investigate online experiences. Participants, however, may appraise
the laboratory environment differently from their everyday life; thus,
laboratory-induced emotions may be different from the actual feelings
that participants experience in everyday life. Researchers may want to
combine all three ways to explore cultural effects on emotions. Moreover, future studies should provide evidence of emotion effects on
self-regulation by measuring self-regulation directly instead of measuring willingness to persist. Although willingness is often used in
other studies of behavior (Gibbons, Gerrard, Blanton, & Russell,
2003), it is a proxy for actual behavior. Given that the current study
only provides correlational data, future experimental results can also
provide evidence of cause-effect relations between emotion and selfregulation.

Cultural Differences and Self-Regulation


The aim of the current study was to investigate cultural differences
in emotions in success and failure experiences. Most of the hypotheses were supported, suggesting that cultural syndromes shape the
way we feel in personally important situations. The interactions between event and culture also suggest that cultures shape peoples
explicit and implicit ways of interacting with environments. Generally, Americans take a positive view of successes, considering success
as fair, beneficial, and personally important, whereas Chinese take a
relatively positive view toward failures, which, to them, are tolerable
and fair.
Not only has our study focused on descriptions of cultural differences in emotions but also on the emotions relations to self-

regulation, a process that has been largely ignored in cross-cultural


studies of self-regulation. For European Americans, a common adage
is If it feels good, do it, which reflects the tendency to persist on
those things one does well. In contrast, as the quote at the beginning
of this article suggests, Chinese tend to believe that personal losses
need not mean the end of ones dreams. Cultural differences in
appraisal of success and failure events lead to distinct emotion experiences, which in turn affect future self-regulation.

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(Appendix follows)

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Appendix
Measures for Emotion Components: Concern and Appraisal
Concern measure
To what extent did you think the event made close others (family members, your teacher or your close friends) feel
proud of [disappointed at] you?
To what extent did you think the event made others jealous or envious [gloat over you]?
To what extent did you think the event made others (acquaintances) think that you were a success [loser]?
To what extent did the event enhance [decrease] others respect for the group (the most salient group in that
situation) to which you belonged?
To what extent did the event raise [decrease] the respect that others had for you?
To what extent did the event enhance [decrease] others respect for your family?
To what extent did the event influence your distance from others? (higher score means closer)
Appraisal Measure
Pleasantness
How pleasant was the situation for you?
To what extent did you find the situation unpleasant as well?
Self-esteem change
To what extent did you feel the situation enhanced [decrease] your self-esteem
Goal conduciveness
To what extent did you feel the situation was conducive to your goals?
To what extent did you feel there were problems that had to be solved before you could get what you wanted?
Tolerance
To what extent did you feel you could bear the situation?
Control
To what extent did you feel that you had the ability to influence what was happening in this situation?
To what extent did you feel that someone other than yourself was controlling what was happening in this
situation?
Fairness
To what extent fair did you think this event was?
Effort
How much effort (mental or physical) did you feel this situation required you to expend?
Personal Importance
To what extent did you feel that the situation was important to you?
Note. Terms in brackets were used for the failure event.

Received April 22, 2010


Revision received March 29, 2011
Accepted April 7, 2011