Chapter 3: Basic Emotion Theory and Social Constructivist Theory

Social Constructivist Perspective

The social constructivist perspective views emotions as learned constructs. Broadly, this view believes emotions are caused by the culture in which we are raised. But, more specifically, environmental causes of emotions could be our parents’ rearing strategies, relationship experiences, gender roles, and even the media.


Video on Differences in Emotion Expression in Eastern and Western Cultures


Social constructivists highlight the fact that languages include a varying number of emotion words. For instance, the English language contains about 500 to 2,000 emotions words, whereas the Ifaluk (Western Pacific) language contains only 50 emotions words. Further, languages include different words to describe emotional experiences that are not translatable to other languages (see Table 2 below).


Table 2

Definitions of Emotion Words According to Each Language


Emotion Word


Czech Litost

a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

Danish Hygge an intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends
German Sehnsucht a desire for alternative states and realizations of life, even if they are unattainable
German Waldeinsamkeit

the feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods, and a connectedness to nature

Greek Nikhedonia

positive feeling when anticipating success

Inuit Iktsuarpok

the anticipation you feel when waiting for someone (as demonstrated by repeatedly going outside to check if they have arrived)

Japanese Wabi-sabi

a “dark, desolate sublimity” centered on the state of lasting only for a short time; imperfection in beauty

Russian Tocka a great spiritual anguish, often with no cause; a longing with nothing to long for
Scottish (old) Misslie alone, lonely, and/or solitary because of the absence of some usual companion
Tagalog Gigil the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are cute or cherished
Thai Greng-jai

the uneasy feeling you get when someone goes out of their way to help you, but you know it is a hassle

Note. definitions derived from online dictionaries, such as this one, and this one

For more cross-cultural differences in emotions words, check out these two British of Psychological Society (BPS) articles:

The final evidence from language is that over time, some emotion words have been removed from languages all together, suggesting the emotions are not adaptive but instead are no longer felt! For example, in the 13th century, the English language included a term “accidie,” which was an emotion experienced when men believed they disappointed God.


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