Uganda, Nigeria on one extreme, and Somalia, Tunisia on the other: Poll says Africans not very emotional, here's why...

Some argue because for decades life was difficult in parts of Africa, the continent developed a certain amount of stoicism as a coping mechanism.

GALLUP has released its latest Global Emotions Report, and while Latin America dominated the most emotional end of the scale, and post-Soviet states the other end, African countries  slotted right in the middle of the scores. 

Gallup measured daily emotions in 148 countries in 2014 by asking people whether they experienced five positive and five negative emotions a lot the previous day. The most and least emotional countries were based on the rankings of the average “yes” responses. 

Varying widely between 43 - 53% African nations were on the less emotional end of the scale, with 25 of the 40 measured countries coming in with less than 50% of their population not experiencing negative or positive emotions. 

At 53% Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mauritius were Africa’s most emotional countries. Generating more “yes” responses when questioned on negative experiences including; anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry, and positive experiences including; feeling well-rested, being treated with respect, enjoyment, smiling and laughing a lot and learning or doing something interesting.

On the other end of the Africa scale, with 43% of “yes” answers, the least emotional countries were; Algeria, Benin, Somalia, Tunisia and Sudan. 

What this research does is not to identify which populations experience more or less positive or negative emotions, but all emotions as a whole - meaning that factors such as culture will play a strong determinant in the outcome, after all, emotions are socially constructed and deeply culturally influenced. 

As stated by Gallup, “the single variable that predicts results on both indexes is country of origin, suggesting that there are cultural biases in how people answer these questions.” For example, whether expressing, and embracing, emotions is socially acceptable. 

The anthropological investigation behind this poll yields some interesting social dynamics. 

Expressing emotions

Firstly, restrictions on expressing emotion can mean a population will be less inclined to get in touch with them. This fits well with the outcome which shows that even though there was a large variance of 10% in the results from Africa, considering the high amount of diversity on the continent, that on the whole, they tended to be at the less emotional end of the spectrum. 

This is partly because a level of conservatism continues to prevail in Africa, shaped by deep cultural and faith-based values. This manifests itself in various ways. For example the old-fashioned legislation in relation to homosexuality and abortion or the disapproving looks over revealing outfits or public displays of affection between couples. 

All of these manifestations can be seen in Uganda, one of the countries with the highest emotional ratings, yet even here there continues to be a degree of emotional suppression which is also a product of the country’s Victorian monarchic values where some cultures still frown upon public displays of expression. 

Some commentators have also argued that because for many decades life was difficult in many parts of Africa, either because of war, poverty, or famine, the continent developed a certain amount of stoicism as a coping mechanism.

Generating less emotions

Another factor that leads to high levels of emotion are cultures that promote or create events that elicit culturally desirable emotions. For example, in the US, Americans promote happiness - a highly desirable emotion in the American cultural context - by creating and promoting many contexts in which happiness is likely to occur. They praise, compliment and encourage each other, give awards and trophies for many varieties and levels of accomplishment. 

These are events which would be less likely to occur in countries undergoing conflict, such as Somalia and the DRC - both ranking in low on the index, or in more previously socialist countries such as Algeria and Benin which traditionally reject material rewards, social status and positions of power - also coming in at the bottom of the emotion index. 

Cultures of honour

Something that is prevalent across Africa are cultures of honour and these can cause high emotional disturbance. 

For example, family honour which permeates multiple aspects of an individual’s lifestyle such as social conduct, religious practice, dress, education, occupation, amount of possessions and marriage. The power of cultures of honour can be seen in specialised etiquette practices in communities across the board which includes the prevalence of acts such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or child marriages in some countries. For example, Sudan has one of the lowest emotional ratings (39%) though, with a prevalence rate of 88%, it has one of the world’s highest rates of FGM - avoiding disrespecting honour and minimising negative feelings of personal shame.

Disrespecting this aspect of culture can illicit substantial feelings of shame, fear and uncertainty but then again, they are unlikely to be daily occurrences and thus would not have reflected in this index. 

The index has attempted to quantify how people experience their lives through human experiences. Rather than using economic indicators such as income or GDP, it looks at non-economic aspects such as freedom, family and social networks, culture, instability and war. All factors which can provide invaluable social information towards improving human development. 

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