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Chapter: Psychology: Motivation and Emotion

Motivation and Emotion

Northerners definitely took some getting used to,”laughs Clint McCabe, a native of Mobile, Alabama, who recently graduated from a university in the northeastern United States.

Motivation and Emotion

Northerners definitely took some getting used to,”laughs Clint McCabe, a native of Mobile, Alabama, who recently graduated from a university in the northeastern United States. Before winning a baseball scholarship that took him 1,000 miles away from his home, Clint had sojourned north of the Mason-Dixon Line only three times. “My family warned me that Yankees would be, well, different. And they were right.”


The most obvious difference, he says, is that people in the North were simply less polite. “I know it sounds like a stereotype, but it’s true. You go into the city, and cars are honkin’ at each other. Kids are mouthin’ off at their mothers. Grown men are hollerin’ and cursin’. If someone acted like that in Mobile, I’d be obliged to jerk a knot in his head.”


Indeed, for his first two years of college, McCabe often found his hands curling into fists and the back of his neck beading with cold sweat. After a while, though, he realized that he was alone in his readiness to tussle. “My friends didn’t understand,” he says. “They’d say, ‘Hey, they don’t mean anything by it. They’re just blowing off some steam.’”


As you will discover, McCabe was caught in a centuries-old culture clash. Back home in Alabama, Southern culture encouraged him to protect his honor and to be careful of insulting anyone else’s. As a result, McCabe and his fellow Southerners tend to be chivalrous and respectful. Once offended or provoked, however, Southerners may explode—hence the saying, “Southerners will be polite until they are angry enough to kill you.”

Northerners, on the other hand, are more likely to express anger early and often.


That way, their thinking goes, the anger doesn’t build up and lead to a blowout. In fact, the North has long enjoyed lower rates of murder and other violent crimes than has the South. Meanwhile, reflecting their willingness to use violence to protect people’s honor, Southerners execute more felons, mete out more corporal punishment in their schools, and pass more lenient laws regarding gun ownership, child abuse, and spousal abuse.


After a few years up North, McCabe became more or less bicultural. While at school, he lost his tendencies to greet strangers with whom he made eye contact and to couch pointed remarks in euphemism. He came to ignore low-level incivilities. But once he stepped off the plane back home, “I was all ‘Yes ma’am,’ ‘No sir,’ and ‘Thank you kindly.’”


People everywhere feel anger and other emotions such as fear and happiness, shame and disgust—psychological experiences that affect our actions, our feelings, and our bodies. People everywhere also have deep-seated biological urges such as feeding , fighting , fleeing , affiliating , and mating—as well as more recently evolved needs like achievement and self-actualization. Many of these motives reveal our basic mammalian core; like any other animal, we humans spendlarge portions of our lives finding food, seeking shelter, fending off rivals, tend-ing to our allies, and seeking sex—in short, pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain.


Yet as McCabe’s experiences in the North and South show, how we express these impulses is strongly shaped by the people and cultures around us. And our emo-tional responses are far from the only impulses that are jointly determined by our biological heritage and our cultural context. Take eating. All people eat. But cultures vary vastly in what, how, where, when, and with whom their members repast. Compared to French people, for example, Americans have more conflicting feelings about food and focus less on its taste and more on its contents—alternately worry-ing about fats, carbohydrates, protein, and cholesterol. French people, in contrast, largely view food as a path to pleasure, and so indulge in a wider variety of fare— chocolates and cheeses, tripe and truffles, champagnes and champignons. By amusing their mouths with smaller amounts of more foods, French people wind up eating a healthier diet—and have the slimmer figures to show it, argues psychologist Paul Rozin.


We will consider some of the major motivational states that shape our behavior, as well as emotional states such as anger, happiness, fear, and sadness. For each, we will see how physiological, cultural, and cognitive factors interact to shape the ways the motive or emotion is expressed.


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