Bilingual-Bicultural Emotionality Scale (BBES)

*under construction


Reactions to Emotional Language in English-Russian & Russian-English Bilinguals

News! We are happy to announce that lab members will present their latest findings at the
Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in New York, May 7.

Title: Psychophysiological Studies of Emotional Arousal to Bilingual
Speakers' First and Second Languages

Auhors: Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Marianna Staroselsky, Nadya Vasilyeva, Victoria Rukovets, Victoria Choate


The importance of studying the emotional concomitants of cognitive abilities has become increasingly appreciated over the last decade, yet no systematic empirical study of emotion and language has been undertaken. The current study uses bilingualism as a method of obtaining reliable differences in emotional report. Second language speakers frequently report that concepts expressed in their first language have greater emotional resonance than concepts expressed in their second language. Electrodermal recording was used to verify this psychophysiologically in English speakers who had grown up with Russian as their first language, or who had acquired Russian as a foreign language in the teen years or later. Stimuli included insults, childhood reprimands (e.g., "Shame on you!"), and positive emotional expressions (compliments, endearments). Late learners of English showed stronger skin conductance responses (SCRs) to emotion words in their first language, Russian, while late learners of Russian showed stronger responses to English. Russian-Americans who grew up with both languages had more similar responses to the two languages. SCRs of English monolingual speakers varied for English phrases but not Russian, indicating that results are due to the meaning of the phrases and not their emotional tone. Participants' ratings of their emotional arousal to the endearments and reprimands were almost as high as to the insults, but SCRs were elevated only for insults. Reports of which language was generally experienced as more emotional was generally the language of highest proficiency. Participants in the bilingual-from-birth group varied in their report. They resembled Russian-dominant individuals in experiencing anger more strongly in Russian, but resembled English-dominant individuals in experiencing positive emotional expression (love, intimacy) more strongly in English. In addition, they associated Russian with parents and siblings and English with peers and romantic partners.


Spanish Deception Study

It has been found that bilinguals feel stronger emotions while speaking in their first language when viewing taboo words. Previous research has suggested that the first language is used to convey emotions and the second language is associated with emotional detachment and distance. This is an exploratory study of the emotional differences in Spanish-English bilinguals within a lie condition. In addition, the study explores whether language proficiency affects the emotional intensity felt by non-native English speakers, as seen in physiological responses.

Forthcoming presentation on this work:
Association for Psychological Science, Washington DC, May 26

Title: Preferring to lie in L1 vs L2: Is emotionality or proficiency more important?


Norma Sanchez, Beth Isreal Hospital
Brenda Ventura, Boston University
Colpan Angun, Boston University
Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Boston University
Ayse Aycicegi-Dinn, Istanbul University


Bilingual speakers often report experiencing more emotional arousal when using their first language (L1), compared to their second language (L2). According to the Emotionality Hypothesis, bilingual speakers should prefer to lie in their less emotional language, because lying would be accompanied by less aversive emotion (less anxiety). According to the Proficiency Hypothesis, bilingual speakers should prefer to lie in their more proficient language, because the ease of speaking would free up attentional resources to monitor lying. In prior work, we had found that 85% of individuals who learned a foreign language in highschool preferred to lie in their L1, which was both their most emotional language and their most proficient. These result supported the proficiency hypothesis.

The current study pitted emotionality and proficiency against each other by focusing on Spanish immigrants to the US who arrived during childhood and regarded Spanish (their L1) as their more emotional language, but English (their L2) as their more proficient language. All participants (N=41) rated themselves as having high proficiency (native or near-native) in both their languages. Two thirds of participants said they would prefer to lie in English (their less emotional language), regardless of language dominance. Once proficiency is at a high level, speakers appear to use perceived emotionality of the language to guide their decisions about the ease of lying. The results highlight an instance where perceived emotionality is clearly distinguishable from proficiency. We conclude that emotionality can influence language choice for consequential behaviors such as lying.


Mandarin Project

*under construction


Putting Feelings into (Two) Words

*under contruction



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