A sample of Chinese American children (N=33, ages 3-5) and native Taiwanese children (N=52, ages 3-7) from low-income families were recruited from preschool programs in Northern California and Taipei, Taiwan respectively. Children’s expressions of anger, sadness, and smiling were video-recorded during the Not-Sharing Task of Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery, in which the child was treated unfairly when sharing candies with the interviewer. Trained observers rated children’s expression of emotions during each 10-second epoch using codes previously validated for preschool-age children (Spinrad & Eisenberg, 2007). Children’s behavioral problems and prosocial behaviors were measured using parent-rated Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).
Results of t-tests indicated that Chinese American and Taiwanese samples did not differ in the mean levels of anger and sadness expressions. However, the Taiwanese group expressed more smiling during the unfair sharing task than the Chinese American group. Zero-order correlations showed some group differences in the relations among emotion expressions and between emotion expressions and behavioral adjustment: in the Taiwan sample, expressions of anger and smiling were positively correlated, and expression of sadness was associated with more prosocial behaviors; in the CA sample, expression of sadness was associated with fewer conduct problems and smiling was associated with more prosocial behaviors.
In summary, these preliminary findings showed that preschoolers from the same ethnic group but living in different cultural contexts (U.S. vs. Taiwan) expressed emotions differently in the same social situation, which is likely associated with cultural differences in display rules and their socialization. These findings suggest that when making cultural adaptions of evidence-based interventions targeting children’s emotional and social skills, it is important to consider cultural differences in display rules.