Saturday 24 November 2012

Dissecting our Emotionless Society

A recent survey conducted by Gallup concluded that Singaporeans ranks as the most emotionless society in the world.  Participants were asked whether they experienced five positive and five negative emotions a lot during the course of a day. 

Graphic: Bloomberg Newsweek, Source: Gallup

The 36% in Singapore who reported feeling anything is the lowest in the world.  Ask any Singaporean on the streets  and i would guess few would find it surprising.  Below is a list of common Singaporean traits which you can probably relate to:

- We do not bother to speak to unfamiliar people we meet in lifts (Same office building/HDB)
- We do not know who our neighbours are and what they do for a living 
- We are unaware and uninterested of the problems our co-workers are facing at work
- Many of us do not even bother to sit on priority seats on public transport for fear of social  
- When we attend concerts or ceremonies, we do not even applaud as loud as we should
- We are often unappreciative of things people go out of the way to do for us.  
- We are less expressive when it comes to displaying our emotions of love & gratitude
   (Ironically we are very expressive when it comes to complaining anonymously online)
- The list goes on....

This lack of social expression and cohesion is often attributed to our lightning paced lifestyle where people constantly struggle to fulfill their career, family, financial demands.  In fact, Singaporeans have grown so accustomed to it that when we see a 70 year old hatchback toilet cleaner at MRT stations, doing physically demeaning tasks, we do not even twitch an eyebrow. Our hearts have hardened to such an extent.

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit
This is in direct contrast to a " where to be born in 2013 index" where Singapore ranked 6 overall for newborns to have opportunities to enjoy a safe, healthy and prosperous life. So the question is: Is it really such a good idea to pop babies in Singapore to endure 18 years of vigorous education and grow up to be working adults who just couldn't care less?

So how did we collectively reach this stage where despite our economic success, we rank low in basically everything that "makes life worth living" ? Where we become rich in material possessions but poor in our social connections with our fellow countryman? From a financial perspective, there are many driving forces which led to this " emotionless" state within Singaporeans.  Many prominent economists and social psychologists have discovered that many indicators that measure social well being e.g. how happy a child is, the level of trust within a community, level of social mobility has a strong correlation with the extent of income inequality within a country.

Source: Ted 2011.  Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

Recent studies have shown that the top 20% in our society is 10 times richer than our bottom 20%. (This is twice the inequality of other developed nations like Japan, Finland & Norway). The large contrast between our rich and poor and our constant need for social validity has been pulling us further and further apart. It seems like in Singapore, one really have to get rich, or  die trying just to make ends meet.  It would be interesting to observe how "emotionless" Singaporeans can evolve in years to come as the trend seems set to continue.  At the meantime, perhaps we could show more emotions by enjoying a good laugh, at least at ourselves.

Another failed campaign?

Do read my other articles:
The Sandwich Generation in Singapore
CPF system & its application of Behavioural Economics


  1. I would think if any, Singaporeans can be less expressive than others. We do generally find it hard to express ourselves in this stressful and mind-your-business society. However we are definitely not emotionless!

  2. In many forums & blogs, many S'poreans are actually quite opinionated about how they feel towards certain issues/incidents and are unafraid to show their emotions. I guess we are just more expressive behind our keyboards. If Gallup has a survey on which society complains the most, i think we will probably come out tops as well.