The Emotional Impact of Being Myself: Emotions and Foreign-Language Processing
Duñabeitia, Jon Andoni
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Ivaz, L., Costa, A., & Duñabeitia, J.A. (2016). The emotional impact of being myself: Emotions and foreign language processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 42(3), 489–496. DOI: 10.1037/xlm0000179
Native languages are acquired in emotionally rich contexts, whereas foreign languages are typically acquired in emotionally neutral academic environments. As a consequence of this difference, it has been suggested that bilinguals’ emotional reactivity in foreign-language contexts is reduced as compared with native language contexts. In the current study, we investigated whether this emotional distance associated with foreign languages could modulate automatic responses to self-related linguistic stimuli. Self-related stimuli enhance performance by boosting memory, speed, and accuracy as compared with stimuli unrelated to the self (the so-called self-bias effect). We explored whether this effect depends on the language context by comparing self-biases in a native and a foreign language. Two experiments were conducted with native Spanish speakers with a high level of English proficiency in which they were asked to complete a perceptual matching task during which they associated simple geometric shapes (circles, squares, and triangles) with the labels “you,” “friend,” and “other” either in their native or foreign language. Results showed a robust asymmetry in the self-bias in the native- and foreign-language contexts: A larger self-bias was found in the native than in the foreign language. An additional control experiment demonstrated that the same materials administered to a group of native English speakers yielded robust self-bias effects that were comparable in magnitude to the ones obtained with the Spanish speakers when tested in their native language (but not in their foreign language). We suggest that the emotional distance evoked by the foreign-language contexts caused these differential effects across language contexts. These results demonstrate that the foreign-language effects are pervasive enough to affect automatic stages of emotional processing.