Saturday, 24 November 2012

Strong feelings over 'emotionless Singaporeans'

Dispute over Gallup findings that society here is world's most emotionless
By Derrick Ho, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2012

SINGAPORE has been described as the world's most emotionless society in a survey.

According to the Gallup survey, people here are the least likely to report experiencing emotions of any kind on a daily basis.

The findings, released on Wednesday, placed Singapore ahead of countries such as Georgia, Lithuania and Russia as the most emotionless society.

The Philippines was ranked as the country with the most emotions, followed by El Salvador and Bahrain.

About 1,000 people aged 15 and older from each of the 150 countries surveyed were polled.

Participants were asked questions such as "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" and if they experienced feelings of enjoyment, physical pain, worry, stress or anger the previous day.

The questions were repeated each year between 2009 and last year. Nearly four in 10 surveyed in Singapore said they did not experience any positive or negative emotions the day before.

But some Singaporeans and experts The Straits Times spoke to dispute the findings.

Most said that while Singaporeans are not outwardly excitable people in public, there are many occasions when they express either their frustration or joy.

"I believe we're simply not as expressive with our emotions," said Mr Danny Tan, 29, a public relations consultant.

"There are occasions to the contrary though. Try cutting someone off while driving on the expressway," he added.

Author and humour columnist Neil Humphreys dismissed the Gallup findings as "rubbish".

"Steal someone's seat on the MRT and see what happens. You got no chance!" said the Singapore-based Briton who has chronicled Singapore life in books.

The country may still be conservative but it is not the same as being emotionless, he added.

It is a point psychiatrist Adrian Wang echoes.

"We're less inclined to make a big show of how we feel. It may be because we're a bit more conservative and tend to keep things to ourselves," he said. "But when we're warmed up, we can be quite expressive - take a look at our National Day celebrations."

Likewise, sociologist Paulin Straughan thinks the survey findings should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Look online, she said, referring to the current debate on whether the Primary School Leaving Examination should be abolished.

"I think we are certainly a reactive nation, and we have strong opinions one way or another."

However, she acknowledged that there is perhaps still a silent group who are not quite confident about speaking up and expressing how they feel.

But to move the country forward, she said, Singaporeans should speak up not only when they want to complain, but also when they are satisfied.

Still, there are some who think there is some truth in the survey findings.

"I think it's part of the way we are brought up," said Mr Timothy Lai, 22, a National University of Singapore student. "We are always told to be 'future-oriented' instead of living and feeling the present, and that how you do or feel now does not matter."

Hong Kong-based writer Andrew Wood, who lived for six years in Singapore, said his "Singaporean friends seem to be able to laugh and cry as well as anyone else in the world".

"But that's on a personal level. In public, Singaporeans do seem more guarded than in other countries... That said, if you want to see Singaporeans at their most passionate, get them talking about their favourite food."

Emotions not taking over?
Opinions mixed on survey finding Singaporeans the most emotionless in the world
by Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 23 Nov 2012

Yes, the Government has a role to play in the emotional well-being of its people and Singaporeans could, perhaps, express more emotion. 

This was the general consensus among academics and Members of Parliament whom TODAY spoke to yesterday, a day after the Republic had the ignominy of being dubbed the "most emotionless society" in the world - or among more than 150 countries and areas, to be more specific - following a poll by research and analytics firm Gallup.

And while there were some criticisms about Gallup's methodology, they agreed that the Government could do more in this area, as Gallup called on the Singapore leadership "to include well-being in its overall strategies if it is going to further improve the lives of its citizenry".

A Bloomberg report on the survey results went viral on Wednesday, and became a talking point among Singaporeans.

Gallup published its findings and methodology, as well as an article on the survey's implications late on Wednesday night. Noting that Singapore has one of the lowest unemployment rates and highest gross domestic product per capita rates in the world, Gallup partner Jon Clifton said that the research "shows that the solutions to improve positive emotions or decrease negative emotions do not necessarily go beyond higher incomes".

The survey was done from 2009 to 2011, with about 1,000 individuals from each country polled each year. The respondents were asked if they had experienced five positive and five negative emotions a lot the previous day.

To measure the presence or absence of emotions, Gallup took the average of the percentage of residents in each country who said they experienced each of the 10 positive and negative emotions.

Singapore scored 36 per cent, with countries such as Lithuania, Russia and Nepal also among the lowest scorers; the Philippines was the most emotional with a score of 60 per cent, with countries such as Oman, Colombia and Canada following closely behind.

The implications for an emotionless society are "significant", Mr Clifton said. "Well-being and daily emotion correlate with some of the most important societal outcomes, such as community attachment and brain gain (acquiring and retaining top talent)," he added.

Findings useful but flawed

Academics said the findings are useful and thought-provoking, but not without flaws. Each country's scores "actually represent the averaged intensity of emotions experienced without regard to the positive or negative valence of the emotions", noted Professor David Chan, Director of the Singapore Management University's Behavioural Sciences Institute.

"So when we distinguish positive and negative emotions and consider them jointly, as we should, Singapore will have a moderate ranking … on emotional well-being," he pointed out.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said he would have obtained separate scores on positive and negative emotions felt, and tried to find out if respondents' emotions were due to personality or contextual factors. But he noted that Singapore has ranked well in recent happiness surveys - in Gallup's 2012 World Happiness Report, for instance, Singapore was third in the Asia-Pacific after Australia and New Zealand.

Associate Professor Tan suggested several ways that the Government could indirectly increase emotional well-being. These include creating quality jobs, providing good education, housing, healthcare and transport, as well as reducing social inequality.

Prof Chan also proposed other ways such as building trust and social capital, treating economic growth as means rather than ends, and implementing integrative policies that ensure growth is translated into outcomes that benefit citizens and contribute to well-being.

The Government could leave more room for "compassionate considerations" when applying policies, suggested Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng. In communicating its decisions to stakeholders, more can be done to show their interests have been taken into account, he said.

But residents too can improve their emotional well-being by showing more neighbourliness and reaching out more to one another, said Mr Baey and fellow MP David Ong.

Mr Ong disagreed with the survey results. He said it could be a Singaporean trait to opt for "less risky" answers in surveys, and that they could be more expressive in certain settings, such as with friends, but not during public events such as concerts. "Maybe it's the culture of not wanting to stand out too much," he said.

Singapore most emotionless society in world: Survey
TODAY, 21 Nov 2012

Singapore has ranked as the most emotionless society in the world by a Gallup survey, according to a Bloomberg News report.

The survey polled more than 140 countries to compare how people felt about their lives. Respondents were asked questions such as "Evaluate your life on a scale of zero to 10" and whether their life would be better or worse five years from now.

Singapore came in ahead of countries such as Georgia, Lithuania and Russia, for being the most emotionless society. The most emotional society was the Philippines, followed by El Salvador and Bahrain.

"If you measure Singapore by the traditional indicators, they look like one of the best-run countries in the world," Gallup partner Jon Clifton was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. "But if you look at everything that makes life worth living, they're not doing so well."

According to the report, not many Singaporeans answered "yes" to negative questions, and to questions measuring happiness, such as, had they smiled yesterday, had they learnt something interesting or felt respected or well-rested?

Only 36 per cent of Singaporeans responded affirmatively to either the positive or negative questions.

According to Gallup's research, only 2 per cent of the country's workers feel engaged by their jobs. The global average is 11 per cent.

"We are taught to keep going and not make too much of a fuss," research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies Leong Chan-Hoong told Bloomberg.

Singaporeans still "take ourselves a bit too seriously," said general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement William Wan.

Other results from the survey showed that the Danes are the most satisfied, while people from Togo in West Africa are least satisfied, according to the news report. The most pessimistic society is Greece, while people most likely last year to report feelings of stress, anger, sadness, worry or pain were Iraqis.

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