The Brain & Emotions- New Research

A new study on bilingual language processing has revealed new insight into the interaction between emotion and thought in the brain.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that people have a greater reaction to emotional words and phrases in their native (first) language. This is further proven by the fact that people speak to their infants and children in their first language despite living in a country which speaks another language and despite fluency in the second. reported that previous research has shown that emotion affects basic brain functions such as attention, memory and motor skills but this new research suggests that it also affects higher brain processing functions like language and understanding.

Their research purports that emotions can shut down high-level mental processes without our knowledge.  Researchers used their past research findings that bilinguals subconsciously access their first language when reading in their second language and and took that a step further.

They discovered that our brain shuts down the same unconscious access to out native language when faced with negative words such as war and unfortunate.

“We devised this experiment to unravel the unconscious interactions between the processing of emotional content and access to the native language system. We think we’ve identified, for the first time, the mechanism by which emotion controls fundamental thought processes outside consciousness.  Perhaps this is a process that resembles the mental repression mechanism that people have theorized about but never previously located,” reported Dr. Yan Jing Wu of the Bangor University’s School of Psychology.

What do you think of these new findings? Are you bilingual, does this seem to be the case for you?

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Humintell would love to get a broad perspective especially from people who are bilingual!

2 responses to “The Brain & Emotions- New Research”

  1. James Woodard says:

    Does this only apply to verbal language skills? I live in Hong Kong and many of my Chinese friends who were born and raised in Hong Kong went to English language schools, but lived in homes where Cantonese was spoken. One of the issues I have noticed is that a couple of these friends cannot read Chinese, even though they speak Canto flawlessly. Their English skills in reading and writing are exemplary. Do the stimuli for certain words have the same effect if they are written? Is this just a spoken language issue? Just curious. Thanks.

  2. Humintell Admin says:

    James, that is a fascinating question and one that would be really interesting to know the answer to. Unfortunately, we don’t know of any studies that have investigated this. The study that is featured above investigated the effects of reading words in a second language, but not writing them.

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