2012. Vol.3, No.6, 504-506
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Influential Factors of Emotional Display Rules in Chinese
Yifang Wang#, Xue Liu, Lixia Cui
Beijing Key Laboratory of Learning and Cognition, Department of Psychology,
Capital Normal University, Beijing, China
Received March 16th, 2012; revised April 9th, 2012; accepted May 11th, 2012
To explore the influential factors of emotional display rules in Chinese adolescents, 119 participants
(male 66, female 53) were selected from a junior high school in Beijing. Ten life events associated with
emotional display rules were used to comprehensively examine the effects of emotional type (positive/
negative), interactive partners (parents/peers), other-involved/self-involved and gender. Results indicated
that in the positive contexts, adolescents applied more EDR in front of peers than parents, while in the
negative contexts their performances were similar in front of the two kinds of interactive partners. All the
participants used more EDR in negative contexts than positive contexts. Compared with other-involved
situations, they applied more EDR in self-involved situations. Girls used more EDR than boys.
Keywords: Adolescents; Emotional Display Rules; Emotional Types; Interactive Partners;
Other-/Self/Involved; Gender
The expression of emotion is likely to vary depending on so-
cial expectation in specific social environment, which is called
“emotional display rules (EDR)” proposed firstly by Ekman
and Friesen (See Hou & Yu, 2006). The findings indicated that
there was a good relationship between individuals’ ability to
apply EDR and social abilities (Jones, Abbey, & Cumber 1998;
McDowell & Parke, 2000). Underwood (1992) found that com-
pared with non-aggressive primary students, aggressive indi-
viduals used less EDR to disguise their anger.
The application of EDR started from preschool age and rap-
idly developed during primary school age. Cole (1986) found
through natural observation that 4 year-old girls could apply
EDR in upset situations. The findings of Shipman and Zeman
(2001) indicated that 6 year-old children were skilled at distin-
guishing facial expressions and inner experiences. The indi-
viduals’ knowledge on EDR increased from age 6 to 10 (Gnepp
& Hess, 1986). Underwood (1992) also demonstrated that 10
year-olds performed better than 8 year-olds on regulating outer
emotional expressions, but there were no differences between
10 year-olds and 13 year-olds. These results suggested that in-
dividuals’ knowledge of EDR increased with age and stabilized
in high grade of primary school.
The development of EDR was influenced by many factors
including gender, emotional ty pes and interactive partners. Ma ny
researchers found that girls’ ability to apply EDR was better
than boys of the same age (Underwood, Coie, & Herbsman,
1992; Jones, Abbey, & Cumberl, 1998; Garrett-Peters & Fox,
2007). Boys expressed more negative emotions when receiving
unflavored presents, while girls expressed more positive emo-
tions (Saarni, 1984). However, some researches demonstrated
no gender differences (Gnepp & Hess, 1986; McDowell & Par-
ke, 2000).
The types of emotion included positive and negative ones.
Most researchers focused on children’s application of EDR in
negative emotional contexts (Saarni, 1984; Zeman & Garber,
1996; Garrett-Peters & Fox, 2007). However, in real life, some-
times people need disguising their positive emotions. Harris
(1986) compared the performances of children on EDR in both
positive and negative emotional contexts, and found that chil-
dren applied EDR more frequently in negative contexts. How-
ever, the findings of McDowell and Parke (2000) demonstrated
no differences existed between the types of emotional contexts.
Children’s applying EDR varied with different interactive
partners. Underwood (1992) demonstrated that children were
more likely to disguise their angers facing teachers than peers.
Moreover, children adopted more emotional regulating beha-
viors facing peers than parents (Zeman & Garber, 1996). Be-
sides, the application of EDR included self-involved and other-
involved situations. Individuals were more sensitive to emo-
tions in self-involved situations (Wang & Su, 2008).
According to the findings of previous studies, children ac-
quired the knowledge of EDR at the age of 10. So adolescents
possessed a good ability of EDR. Then whether the perfor-
mances of adolescents on EDR were still influenced by those
factors was in doubt. The present research aimed at exploring
comprehensively the effects of these factors: gender, emotion
types (positive/negative), interactive partners (parents/peers)
and self-involved or other-involved situations on adolescents’
Methods and Procedures
*This research was supported by Project of National Natural Science Foun-
dation of China [30900407 to Yifang Wang], Project of Humanities and Social
Science Fund of Chinese Education Ministry [09YJCXLX023 to Yifang Wang
and Project of Beijing Government [PHR201007109 to Ping Fang].
#Correspo n ding author.
The participants consisted of 119 students from a junior mi-
ddle school in Beijing (66 male, 53 female). One hundred and
sixteen students completed the measurement. The percentage of
validity was 97.48%.
We collected life events in adolescent period by interviews
and literature references. Ten typical life events including 5
positive and 5 negative emotional contexts associated with
EDR were selected and rewritten according to Josephs (1994)
and Jones, Abbey, and Cumberl (1998). Because of different in-
teractive partners (parents/peers) and other-involved or self-
involved situations, 10 typical contexts generated 40 situations
associated with EDR.
For example, Lin Ming’s birthday is coming. His dream pre-
sent from parents is a car model. However, he receives a pre-
sent which he does not like. What will Lin Ming do?
A. display sad facia l expression
B. feel sad, but display calm facial expression
C. feel sad, but display happy facial expression
D. others
If you were him, what would you do?
A. display sad facia l expression
B. feel sad, but display calm facial expression
C. feel sad, but display happy facial expression
D. others
If participants chose A, it represented that they didn’t use
EDR. If they chose B or C, it represented their use of EDR.
Participants who chose D were encoded into two categories by
two undergraduates majoring in psychology: participants with
the use of EDR or not. The kappa was .87***. Using EDR
scored 1, while not using EDR scored 0.
The performance of applying emotional display rules in ado-
lescents was shown in Table 1. A 2 (emotional types) × 2 (in-
teractive partners) × 2 (other-involved/self-involved) × 2 (gen-
der) repeated measure ANOVA was conducted. It yielded sig-
nificant interactions among emotional types, interactive partners,
and other-involved/self-involved situations, F (1,114) = 8.33, p
< .01, η2 = .07, and between emotional types and interactive
partners, F (1,114) = 8.52, p < .01, η2 = .07. It also yielded
significant main effects of emotional types, F (1,114) = 188.53,
p < .01, η2 = .62, interactive partners, F (1,114) = 5.85, p < .05,
η2 = .05, other-involved/ self-involved situations, F (1,114) =
13.97, p < .01, η2 = .11, and gender , F (1,114) = 10.74, p < .01,
η2 = .09.
Simple effect analysis was done to explain the significant in-
teractions among emotion types, interactive partners and self-
involved or other-involved situations. In positive emotional co-
texts, participants applied more EDR in front of peers than
parents in self-involved situation, t (115) = –3.40, p < .01, and
in other-involved situation, t (115) = –2.16, p < .05. While in
negative emotional contexts, no significant differences existed
between two kinds of interactive partners both in self-involved
situations, t (115) = 1.19, p > .05, and in other-involved situa-
tions, t (115) = –1.43, p > .05.
In the positive contexts, adolescents applied more EDR in
front of peers than parents, while in negative contexts, their
Table 1.
The performance of applying emotional display rules in adolescents
Parents Peers
Gender Emotion Other (0 - 5)Self (0 - 5) Other (0 - 5)Self (0 - 5)
N 3.30 (1.34)3.80 (1.29) 3.12 (1.54)4.01 (1.12)
B P 1.62 (1.53)2.19 (1.52) 1.83 (1.49)2.28 (1.49)
N 4.17 (1.05)4.24 (1.01) 4.12 (1.21)4.25 (1.11)
G P 1.86 (1.56)2.29 (1.74) 2.49 (1.38)2.78 (1.57)
performances were similar in front of the two kinds of interac-
tive partners. All the participants used more EDR in negative
contexts than in positive contexts. Compared with other-in-
volved situations, they applied more EDR in self-involved
situations. Girls used more EDR than boys.
The results indicated that the effects of interactive partners
on adolescent’s application of EDR were moderated by emo-
tional types. Zeman and Garber (1996) found individuals’ emo-
tional expressions were influenced by degree of familiarity and
sense of subordinating to elders or superiors. Although peers
are increasingly important to individuals in early adolescence,
the high familiarity and subordinate sense with their parents can
still not go beyond. Adolescents and their parents are the com-
munity of interests. When faced with positive events, they are
unconsciously willing to share with each other. However, peers
are different from parents though adolescents spend more time
with peers. Establishment and maintenance of peer relationship
is an important life event for them. To get a better peer rela-
tionship, sometimes they disguise their positive emotions in
front of peers in order to put little pressure on them. Take a
scenario for example. “In an athlete meeting, Lin Min won the
first prize, while his friends got nothing.” Lin Min would try to
apply EDR to disguise their positive emotions perhaps because
he worried about giving his peers too much pressures or get
peers jealous of him.
Zeman and Garber found that in angry and sad contexts,
primary students applied more EDR in front of peers than par-
ents, which was inconsistent with our results. Liu and Fang
(2007) demonstrated that 4 - 6 year-old children had a better
understanding of situations interacting with peers than old gen-
erations, regardless of the types of emotions. Perhaps the dif-
ferent ages of participants accounted for the inconsistency of
various findings. Seidel et al. (2010) indicated that happiness
positively correlated with approaching intendancy, while anger
positively correlated with avoidance intendancy. Individuals
applied EDR in order to communicate with others more effec-
tively. Adolescents expected receiving “respects like an adult”
and smooth interpersonal relationship, so they were more likely
to express positive feelings as well as deducting negative feel-
Consistent with previous findings, we also found that com-
pared with boys, girls were more likely to apply EDR. It could
be of large possibility due to socialization of different gender
roles. In most cultures, parents had different social expectations
towards boys and girls. Girls should be more quiet and consid-
erate. Thus, parents tolerated more boys’ emotional expressions
and asked girls to control their emotions. Cole (2005) suggested
that parents focused more on girls’ obedient emotions and
boy’s discordant emotions. The degree of parents’ selective
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 505
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
concentrations on specific emotions was related to children’s
later expression of specific emotions.
The results indicated that participants applied more EDR in
self-involved than other-involved situations. Wang and Su
(2008) demonstrated that individuals’ emotional experiences
were more sensitive in self-involved situations. Self-served
biased attribution existed widely in population of different cul-
tures (Mezulis, Abramson, Hy de, & Hankin, 2004). Hence, ado-
lescents made the judgments with different standards in self-
involved and other-involved situations. In self-involved situa-
tions, they would protect themselves, while in other-involved
situation, they would become more objective.
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