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What We All Need To Know About Human Emotions & How They Affect Our Behaviour with Batja Mesquita

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  March 15, 2023

Are emotions universal? Do you think people are programmed to feel a certain way in specific situations? Or is there a clear distinction between what makes you feel angry, happy or sad, compared to someone else?

Today’s guest is someone whose work I believe can help all of us to make better connections in a fractured, modern world. Batja Mesquita is a social psychologist, affective scientist, and pioneer of cultural psychology. She’s also a Professor of Psychology at the University of Leuven in Belgium and in her ground-breaking book, Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions, she suggests emotions don’t live within us, they arise between us. They are made, not innate; they form in response to social interaction and can differ dramatically across societies and cultures.

That’s not, of course, to deny our emotions are authentic – or to say that we don’t feel them deeply. Rather it’s a way to acknowledge that not everyone will see the same situation in the same way. We can probably all think of occasions where someone from another culture has responded unusually to us – or where our own behaviour has been misunderstood by them.

In this conversation, Batja gives examples of how, as a Dutch academic visiting America, she found her colleagues’ culture of compliments uncomfortable and overfamiliar. She explains that it’s not about our language, although the words we choose to describe our feelings can be significant. Instead, says Batja, our culture, heritage, gender, socioeconomic group or even age influences how we interpret the world – and so what our emotional norms are in a given situation.

We cover so many thought-provoking topics, including:

  • What emotions really are – and why anger, shame or pride might differ across cultures.
  • Parenting and how we understand and influence our child’s emotions.
  • The immigrant experience and how being raised with dual cultures might affect your relationships and approach to life.
  • How a better understanding of cultural differences and language interpretation could help doctor-patient relationships.

I absolutely loved Batja’s book and I think her work is really important. The more we are able to connect with our fellow humans instead of judging them, the happier and more harmonious the world is going to be. I hope you enjoy listening.

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*

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Watch the video version of this interview – click below.

Connect with Batja:

Twitter      Instagram      

Facebook      LinkedIn      

Batja’s book:

Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions

Related Feel Better Live More Episodes:

#179 Why Emotions Matter More Than You Think with Professor Marc Brackett

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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

†Disclosure: All books marked with a † are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We take part in Amazon’s affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon’s website. You are not charged any extra by using these links to purchase books.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP