Home Mind & Brain Bilinguals Are Less Affected by Negative Words in Their Second Language, Finds New Study

Bilinguals Are Less Affected by Negative Words in Their Second Language, Finds New Study

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Significant findings regarding bilingualism and emotional sensitivity have come to light in a recent study by researchers from Adam Mickiewicz University and Bangor University. The study, published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, utilised electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate how Polish-English bilinguals process negative content when producing speech in their second language (L2).

Dr Rafa Joczyk and his team’s study discovered that bilingual people display reduced sensitivity to negative content when using English as their second language. This effect, previously documented in language comprehension, has now been extended to language production.

The research highlights that the emotional disembodiment in L2 not only affects comprehension but also the production of speech. This reduced sensitivity could have implications for how bilinguals navigate emotionally charged situations in their second language.

The study comprised two experiments involving 35 Polish-English bilinguals who participated in tasks designed to elicit emotional word production. The experiments aimed to determine how emotional cues affect the brain’s response to negative and neutral words during speech production.

Experiment 1 involved a neutral context where participants were cued with black or white circles to either read aloud or translate a word. Experiment 2 used emotional context cues, such as sad or neutral emojis, to prime participants before word production.

In both experiments, the N400 amplitudes were reduced for negative words in L2 compared to L1. The N400 component, associated with the brain’s processing of meaning and integration of semantic information, was less pronounced for negative words in the second language. This suggests that negative content in L2 requires less cognitive effort to process, indicating emotional detachment.

The LPP amplitudes, which reflect emotional processing and re-evaluation, were larger when participants translated negative words from L2 to L1 than from L1 to L2. This indicates that producing negative words in the native language (L1) involves greater emotional engagement.

The increased LPP response for negative words translated from L2 to L1 supports the hypothesis that bilinguals experience a higher emotional impact when reverting to their native language.

These findings have several implications for understanding bilingualism and emotional processing. The reduced sensitivity to negative content in L2 could influence how bilinguals perceive and react to emotionally charged situations, potentially affecting communication and social interactions.

Moreover, the study sheds light on the cognitive processes underlying bilingualism. It suggests that the emotional resonance of words is diminished in the second language, possibly due to delayed acquisition and reduced embodiment of emotional concepts in L2.

Jończyk and his team suggest that these results could inform therapeutic practices, particularly in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), where language use plays a crucial role in emotional processing and expression. For instance, therapists working with bilingual clients might consider the emotional detachment that occurs when clients use their second language, potentially impacting the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.

While the study provides substantial evidence of emotional disembodiment in L2, the researchers acknowledge the need for further investigation. Future studies could explore how different levels of language proficiency and varied emotional contexts impact bilinguals’ emotional processing.

The researchers also recommend extending the research to include positive emotional content and more complex linguistic constructs, such as sentences and narratives, to better understand the nuances of bilingual emotional processing.

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