“Does ‘ideal affect’ drive the diagnosis of depression?”

Jeanne Tsai
Date and Time: 
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 5:30pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


In this talk, I will argue that cultural differences in ideal affect---the affective states that people value and ideally want to feel-- can shape how people perceive others, even in a clinical context. Specifically, I’ll describe a series of studies suggesting that because European American culture emphasizes excitement states, American clinicians base their diagnoses of depression on the *absence* of excitement. This process can disadvantage Asian American patients and members of other cultural groups that value calm rather than excited affective states. Finally, I’ll present preliminary results suggesting that American clinicians’ emphasis on excitement states can be ameliorated by teaching them about cultural differences in ideal affect.


Jeanne Tsai, Associate Professor in the Psychology Department here at Stanford, will talk about culture and affect. She is known for her work demonstrating that the cultural ideals around emotion alter people’s judgment about their own emotional experience. This has consequences for both clinical work and anthropological observation. It matters what a person means when they want to “feel good.”

Her website is here:


Here is a short and interesting article on her work in the Stanford Alumni magazine: