The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Korean Emotion Expressions: Understanding Gender Differences and Enhancing Cultural Competence of Social Work Practitioners

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Sunju Sohn, PhD, Assistant Professor, Cheongju University, Cheongju, South Korea
Sook-Hee Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wonkwang University, Iksan, South Korea
Purpose: Social work practice is fundamentally a language-centered activity in assisting clients’ psychological and emotional needs. Clients’ benefits from talking about emotional experiences with others include emotional relief and recovery. With rapidly increasing Korean/Korean-American aging population in the United States, need for efficient service delivery is also on the rise. Given that low-income Korean elders’ with limited communications skills are likely to experience higher anxiety and depression, lower self-control, and lower general health, social work practitioners need to approach with cultural competence, particularly in verbally communicating with them. This article presents findings from an explorative research on prospective social workers’ degree of comprehension of Korean expressions in terms of incongruence of its meanings differentiated by gender and field practicum experience.

Method: A total of 504 most widely used Korean emotion expressions were rated into eleven emotions (i.e., happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, interest, boredom, pain, neutral, and other) by 24 male and 56 female social work majoring college students. Half (54%) of these raters completed field practicum prior to study participation. Through multi-sorting and crosstabs processes, rating results were then evaluated by rank ordered emotions (indicative of frequencies of the number of respondents). Incongruence in which men and women and those with and without field practicum experience differently understood each expression was further explored. Dual-meaning (i.e., one expression representing two distinct emotions) issue was also incorporated in the analysis.

Results: While there was a general consensus among the majority (84% of 504) on the Korea expressions, there were 79 words (16%) which men and women did not concur on the meanings. Most inconsistencies were found in 20 words which female students attributed ‘anger’, while male students assigned ‘disgust’. Some expressions were identified by men as same words that they would likely use under two different emotional conditions. By field experience, two groups did not concur on 59 words (12%), with the majority of expressions representing ‘disgust’ indicated by subjects without field practicum and ‘anger’ among those with experience. Although these expressions overlapped with those indentified by gender differences, thus may be insufficient to suggest any difference accounting for field experience. [A complete list of these Korean expressions will be comprehensively presented in the poster.]

Implications: Findings suggest that heterogeneity appears to exist in the communication style among Korean men and women. Also, the finding points out to the possibility that Korean men may perceive or use same expressions under two different emotional experiences, while the vast majority of Korean women’s emotion vocabularies tend to correspond to a single emotion. In clinical settings, these findings as well as a comprehensive list of most widely used Korean expressions may enhance practitioners’ confidence level in communications between opposite sex combinations of client-therapist. The findings also emphasize the need to further probe for clarification with clients to have greater sensitivity to clients’ emotional needs and facilitate empathy and reflection processes.

Acknowledgment: This research was supported by the Converging Research Center Program funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2011K000658).