Social Expectations as a Source of Negative Emotions
People strive to meet others’ expectations. However, it remains understudied how people react to their behaviors that deviate from others’ expectations. Here, we tested the hypothesis that negative emotions (e.g., guilt) and mental states (e.g., stress) scale with how much people deviate from social expectations. Moreover, we investigated the role of strength and legitimacy in modulating the effect of expectations on negative emotions and mental states. American (N = 143) and Chinese (N = 181) college students completed a daily diary task where they reported an expectation they had experienced during that day, for a duration of five days. They then reported on how much they fulfilled the expectation, and on a number of emotions and mental states they experienced with respect to the fulfillment of the expectation. Across the two samples, guilt and stress were negatively associated with how much one fulfilled the expectation (ts < -7.59). Critically, for both samples, stronger and more legitimate expectations elicited more stress and guilt when one failed to fulfill it (ts < -3.52; with the exception of the modulating role of strength in the Chinese sample). To conclude, failing to live up to others’ expectations elicits negative emotions and mental states across both cultures, especially when the expectations are stronger and more legitimate. However, American participants are generally more sensitive to stronger and more legitimate expectations in comparison to Chinese participants.