Teaching: Shared Emotions / Positives of Psychological Disorders

Aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom, Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Emotions Between Us • Teaching Students About the Positives of Psychological Disorders 

Emotions Between Us

By Beth Morling, University of Delaware 

Uchida, Y., Nakayama, M., & Bowen, K. (2022). Interdependence of emotion: Conceptualization, evidence, and social implications from cultural psychology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 31(5), 451–456.

How are you feeling? 

Delighted? Serene? Anxious? Regardless of the specific emotion, consider where your feelings live. Do they emerge from within yourself—from your personal appraisals and reactions? Or are your emotions a shared experience—evoked by, and in concert with, your interactions with important others?  

Psychologists Yukiko Uchida, Masataka Nakayama, and Kimberly Bowen (2022) articulate culturally divergent lay theories of emotions. People living in independent cultural contexts (where the self is modeled as an agent separate from others) enact a lay theory of emotions as coming from one’s own fears, achievements, or goals. Indeed, psychologists from independent cultures have typically studied emotions as phenomena associated with individuals. 

Related content: Psychological Science in the Era of Infectious Disease

However, people in interdependent contexts (where the shared model acknowledges the self as conjoined with, attuned to, and constituted by others) enact a lay theory of interdependence of emotion (IOE). Emotions emerge from the space between the self and others, within a particular situation. Feelings arise from social contexts as people respond to others’ expectations, feel grateful for others’ support, or share in group achievements. 

Studies on Olympic athletes have demonstrated IOE in action. Analyzing interviews, Uchida et al. (2009) found that Japanese athletes used emotion words most often when asked about social relationships, whereas North American athletes used emotions in self-focused contexts. Similarly, Japanese study participants used emotion words more in a relationship-focused (rather than self-focused) context, as demonstrated in Student Activity 1.   

Masuda’s research found that people living in independent cultural contexts were less likely than people in interdependent contexts (such as Japan) to incorporate the faces of surrounding others in their perceptions of a target’s emotion. Photo: Anna Samoylova, unsplash

IOE is reflected in how people perceive the emotional states of others. Masuda et al. (2008) showed photos of a target either smiling or scowling, surrounded by a group of others. Japanese viewers (more than Canadians) incorporated the faces of surrounding others in their ratings: When the target was smiling amid others who were scowling, Japanese participants (more than Canadians) rated the target’s smile as less happy than when the surrounding others were happy. Consistent with IOE, this suggests that for the Japanese participants, people’s facial expressions are meaningful only in the social context.  

Uchida, Nakayama, and Bowen apply IOE to health, stress, and compliance with public health norms. For example, the personal emotion empowerment might facilitate prosocial action in independent cultural contexts, but empathy and understanding of others’ situations facilitates social action in IOE contexts. During a collective global threat like the pandemic, IOE might encourage people to adhere to protective social norms such as lockdowns (Lu et al., 2021).

Student Activities: Emotions Between Us


Hitokoto, H., & Uchida, Y. (2015). Interdependent happiness: Theoretical importance and measurement validity.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 16, 211–239. 

Lu, J. G., Jin, P., & English, A. S. (2021). Collectivism predicts mask use during COVID-19. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,USA, 118(23),  Article e2021793118. 

Masuda, T., Ellsworth, P. C., Mesquita, B., Leu, J., Tanida, S., & Van de Veerdonk, E. (2008). Placing the face in context: Cultural differences in the perception of facial emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 365–381. 

Mesquita, B. (2022). Between us: How cultures create emotions. W.W. Norton. 

Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (1993). The affective and cognitive context of self-reported measures of subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 28, 1–20.  

Uchida, Y., Townsend, S. S. M., Rose Markus, H., & Bergsieker, H. B. (2009). Emotions as within or between people? Cultural variation in lay theories of emotion expression and inference. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(11), 1427–1439. 

Teaching Students About the Positives of Psychological Disorders 

By June Gruber, University of Colorado Boulder

Uddin, L. (2022). Exceptional abilities in autism: Theories and open questions. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 

We commonly think of psychological disorders in terms of their negatives. Both everyday conversation and published studies feature the “4 d’s”: deficit, disturbance, disruption, and dysfunction. Many undergraduate-level courses on psychological disorders are still called abnormal psychology. These words imply that something is wrong and, by association, that little is positive in psychological disorders.  

Uddin (2022) argues that most research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focuses on deficits, or disrupted aspects of psychological functioning. The cardinal clinical symptoms of ASD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) are social communication disturbances (e.g., trouble communicating with others, lack of eye contact) and restrictive and repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand flapping or repeating words) that impair daily functioning. Subsequent research has focused on trying to understand the neural, cognitive, and psychological processes that may explain what these symptoms look like in ASD, who develops them, and how we can develop more effective supports. 

But to understand mental health, we need to see the negative as well as the positive.  

Uddin (2022) suggests that people also study the strengths or exceptional abilities of those with ASD by focusing on a subset who demonstrate exceptional cognitive abilities. People with autism who have enhanced cognitive abilities have been referred to as “twice-exceptional”: they have ASD symptoms and enhanced cognitive strengths or abilities. 

Uddin notes that prioritizing our understanding of these twice-exceptional individuals matters. Up to 60% of ASD-diagnosed individuals demonstrate enhanced cognitive abilities, and up to 75% of those referred to as a “savant” (a condition where someone has a uniquely exceptional talent despite a developmental disability) have an underlying diagnosis of ASD. Uddin also describes three leading theories that attempt to account for the exceptional cognitive abilities among those with ASD. However, she notes that many studies on giftedness in people with ASD were conducted on small samples and require more rigorous and multi-method approaches. It also remains unclear how these abilities can be leveraged to help those with ASD live fulfilling lives and buffer against known social challenges in transitioning to independent living. 

What it feels like to be autistic” interview on CNN with Dr. Temple Grandin

A growing body of studies suggests that ASD is not alone: Several other psychological disorders are also characterized by unique strengths and abilities (Galvez et al., 2011). Enhanced creativity is reported among some people with mania and mild forms of schizophrenia (Acar et al., 2018; Murray & Johnson, 2010), and greater prosocial behavior has been observed among those with a history of depression (Ong et al., 2017). 

Prioritizing scientific understanding of the positive side of ASD and other disorders is critical. It can provide a more accurate view of mental illness, help promote treatments that address the whole person (not just their difficulties) and help de-stigmatize mental illness (Hinshaw & Stier, 2008). Teaching the positive side of psychological disorders is overdue. 

Student Activity: Teaching Students About the Positives of Psychological Disorders

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Acar, S., Chen, X., & Cayirdag, N. (2018). Schizophrenia and creativity: A meta-analytic review. Schizophrenia Research, 195, 23–31. 

Foley Nicpon, M., Allmon, A., Sieck, B., & Stinson, R. D. (2011). Empirical investigation of twice-exceptionality: Where have we been and where are we going? Gifted Child Quarterly, 55(1), 3–17. 

Galvez, J. F., Thommi, S., & Ghaemi, S. N. (2011). Positive aspects of mental illness: A review in bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 128(3), 185–190.  

Hinshaw, S. P., & Stier, A. (2008). Stigma as related to mental disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 367–393. 

Murray, G., & Johnson, S. L. (2010). The clinical significance of creativity in bipolar disorder. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(6), 721–732. 

Ong, D. C., Zaki, J., & Gruber, J. (2017). Increased cooperative behavior across remitted bipolar I disorder and major depression: Insights utilizing a behavioral economic trust game. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,126(1), 1–7. 

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