Featured in Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List 2022
A pioneer of cultural psychology argues that emotions are not innate, but made as we live our lives together.
“How are you feeling today?” We may think of emotions as universal responses, felt inside, but in Between Us, acclaimed psychologist Batja Mesquita asks us to reconsider them through the lens of what they do in our relationships, both one-on-one and within larger social networks. From an outside-in perspective, readers will understand why pride in a Dutch context does not translate well to the same emotion in North Carolina, or why one’s anger at a boss does not mean the same as your anger at a partner in a close relationship. By looking outward at relationships at work, school, and home, we can better judge how our emotions will be understood, how they might change a situation, and how they change us.
Brilliantly synthesizing original psychological studies and stories from peoples across time and geography, Between Us skillfully argues that acknowledging differences in emotions allows us to find common ground, humanizing and humbling us all for the better.
"Many of the answers about emotions are not to be found in our insides, but importantly, in our social contexts," contends Mesquita, a psychology professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium, in her dazzling debut. Arguing that "we primarily have emotions in order to adjust to changes in our relationship with the (social) world," the author uses social psychology and eye-opening case studies to examine the cultural, political, and economic factors that influence what people feel. Mesquita lays out two ways of thinking about emotions: MINE ("Mental, INside the person, and Essentialist") and OURS ("OUtside the person, Relational, and Situated"). She suggests that Western cultures tend to take the MINE approach while OURS predominates everywhere else, and she cites a study that found Japanese Olympic athletes emphasized the relational aspect of emotions more than their American counterparts in interviews. Exploring how parents instruct children in emotional norms, Mesquita describes how Minangkabau people in West Sumatra shame kids when they break a norm and how Bara people in Madagascar teach the young to fear displeasing ancestral spirits so that the children comply with authority. The bounty of case studies captivates and makes a strong argument that social conditions have the power to dictate how one expresses and experiences emotions. The result is a bracing and bold appraisal of how feelings develop.