Processing Emotion and Taboo in a Native vs. a Second Language: An ERP Study
Fogel, Allison R.
- Bilinguals frequently report that words in a second language (L2) do not seem to have as much emotional impact as words in a native language (L1) and that it is easier to swear in L2. This intuition has been corroborated experimentally, most reliably by studies that have found greater skin conductance responses (SCRs) in response to emotional phrases and taboo words in L1 than in L2, but the ... read moreprocessing differences underlying this disparity remain unclear. In monolinguals, the late positive component (LPC) has been shown to be responsive to a word's level of arousal (intensity) but not to its valence (pleasantness). The present study investigated how these dual aspects of a word's emotionality are processed in L2. In Experiment 1, participants performed a semantic categorization task as they read single words that were crossed in levels of valence and arousal. As predicted, highly arousing words evoked a larger LPC than low arousal words in native English speakers but not in L2 English speakers, and no main effect of valence was observed in either group. Experiment 2 added taboo words to the same design. As with the arousal effects seen in Experiment 1, taboo words elicited a robust LPC compared to neutral words in native speakers, while the taboo effect was restricted in distribution in L2 speakers. However, no arousal effects were observed to highly arousing nontaboo words in either group when taboo words were present in the paradigm. These results suggest that L2 words are experienced as less arousing than L1 words and that arousal is relative to the surrounding context.read less