Processing emotional words in two languages with one brain: ERP and fMRI evidence from Chinese-English bilinguals

Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior
Peiyao ChenTaomei Guo


Emotional words in a bilingual's second language (L2) seem to have less emotional impact compared to emotional words in the first language (L1). The present study examined the neural mechanisms of emotional word processing in Chinese-English bilinguals' two languages by using both event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Behavioral results show a robust positive word processing advantage in L1 such that responses to positive words were faster and more accurate compared to responses to neutral words and negative words. In L2, emotional words only received higher accuracies than neutral words. In ERPs, positive words elicited a larger early posterior negativity and a smaller late positive component than neutral words in L1, while a trend of reduced N400 component was found for positive words compared to neutral words in L2. In fMRI, reduced activation was found for L1 emotional words in both the left middle occipital gyrus and the left cerebellum whereas increased activation in the left cerebellum was found for L2 emotional words. Altogether, these results suggest that emotional word processing advantage in L1 relies on rapid and automatic attention capture while facilitated semantic retri...Continue Reading


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