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Embodiment of social communication: The affective and sensory bases of second language in early and late bilinguals

Final Report Summary - EMBODIEDSOCIALCOM (Embodiment of social communication: The affective and sensory bases of second language in early and late bilinguals)

The proposed research program was designed to make two critical contributions: (1) to advance our understanding of a number of central issues relevant to the emerging field of embodiment namely to compare the grounding of a first (native) language (L1) and a second (learned) language (L2) in early (EBs) and late bilinguals (LBs); and (2) to examine the behavioral and psychophysiological mechanisms underlying these differences.
Theoretically, the results of this project may help uncover some of the processes that play a role in the communication dynamics of an increasingly multilingual and multicultural European Community. The applications introduced by the framework advanced here may further our understanding of how L1/L2 differences shape the comprehension, evaluation, and affective understanding in a context where the daily use of a second language for professional, recreational and interpersonal purposes is increasingly important.
Training objectives were also set, namely the development of a solid conceptual background, experimental and technical skills to conduct the studies and analyze the results, scientific presentation and writing skills, supervision and project management skills. Transfer of knowledge objectives included presentations, publications and training of young researchers.
During the project we have prepared, conducted and analyzed most of the studies proposed. We have conducted an extensive pilot study to select stimulus materials for the main studies. We used L1 / L2 words and collected both self-reported (e.g. familiarity / valence / emotional-intensity) as well as memory measures, and psychophysiological measures, e.g. Skin Conductance Responses (SCR) and Electromyography (EMG). Based on these results we have designed, programed and collected data from studies 2, 3 and 4 that examine L1/L2 differences between EBs and LBs in affective priming tasks, namely the differences in the classification latencies of target words / pictures in L1 / L2 between EBs and LBs. We have also prepared and conducted Studies 6 & 7 examining the differences in the activation of zygomatic and corrugator muscles as a function of self-referent and other-referent pronouns and group membership (in- vs. outgroup) and L1 / L2 (DV: EMG readings and rating scales). Finally, we have prepared and conducted study 9 where after reading newspaper items (positive / negative) in both L1/L2 (valence and language order counterbalanced), participants classified Chinese ideographs on a pleasantness dimension to measure the subjective emotional impact of the news and responded to both objective informational and subjective questions assessing the informational content and the emotional loading of the described event, respectively.
The training activities undertaken during the project included: (1) A substantial investment on theoretical understanding and integration of embodiment processes and in the grounding of abstract and concrete concepts. This effort has resulted in several international book chapters; (2) Mastering the procedures involved in programing, setting up the experiments using psychophysiological measurement, and data cleaning and analysis. These have been instrumental in preparing and conducting the proposed experimental work; (3) Scientific presentation, writing and reviewing scientific papers and grant applications, supervision and mentoring young researchers. The training activities and the skills they have enabled have been extremely valuable in stimulating the fellow’s dissemination activities, as well as the application for other research grants.
Regarding the results obtained, we have found that the design, experimental materials, and procedures used in study 1 were adequate to the issues we aimed to investigate. As predicted, the results indicated that the valence of the words can be tapped by EMG measures, namely the more positive the words were, the higher the inhibition observed in the corrugator facial muscle. Further, also as predicted, the higher the self-reported arousal the higher the SCR observed, and the better the memory is for those words. However, the questionnaire we have used to differentiate between EB’s and LB’s did not allow a clear distinction of these two groups. We have replicated the same study with two different groups (established in advance as late and early bilinguals) and expect that the effects that valence and arousal of the stimuli produce in our dependent measures (EMG, SCR, Self-reported measures, and memory) will be less extreme in L2 (for late bilinguals) as we assume a second language is not embodied to the same extent. Further, we have extended this study by introducing two additional conditions to the visual presentation of stimuli (an auditory presentation condition and a spoken condition). These results are being analyzed and will be ready by the end of the project. The results from studies 2, 3 and 4 indicate the expected pattern, that is, the affective priming effects observed in L1 do not generalize to L2. However due to the complexity of the designs, namely the number of stimuli (positive, negative and neutral) that constitute the primes and the targets and the required counterbalanced presentation in L1 and L2, our studies were underpowered and we had to increase the sample size. Nevertheless all data have been collected and we expect to have the final analysis concluded by the end of the project. The results from studies 6 & 7 were not conclusive, and suggest that our manipulation of interpersonal pronouns and group membership was not enough to induce differentiated EMG responses. However, the results from the rating scales are encouraging and suggest that L1 sentences produce, as expected, more extreme evaluations (positive and negative) of self and ingroup members than L2 sentences. Results from study 9 also indicate, as expected, that the emotional impact of news presented in L1 is higher than when those news are presented in L2 and that these differential evaluation is not dependent upon comprehension.
The results from the extensive literature review and conceptual integration on embodied processes originated several book chapters. The findings derived from studies 1 and the preliminary results obtained in studies 2, 3 and 4 were presented in scientific meetings. We have also drafted 4 papers to be submitted for publication (a methodological paper about psychophysiological measurement in the context of L1 and L2, two extensive pilots of words and faces used across the experiments and one with results from study 9). Further publications are expected based on the results from study 1 and its extensions, and from the final results of studies 2, 3 and 4.
Furthermore, the current fellowship allowed the accomplishment of several other important objectives regarding the development of scientific skills, research dissemination and knowledge transfer.
The main theoretical contribution of this proposal is the implications that this research is likely to have to the current debate on the embodiment perspective on language. Preliminary results seem to lend new and additional support to the assumptions that cognition and language are grounded on affective bodily states and clarify the constraints of such assumptions when L2 is at stake.
The applied contribution of investigating L1 / L2 discrepancies is far reaching. Aside from the direct implications for intercultural communication, we contend that our research findings may be important to understand the emotional constraints caused by the use of a second language in everyday discourse across a variety of institutional contexts. This could be seen in the context of major international organizations, scientific communities, and multinational business companies among others. Finally this research is likely to have implications for educational and pedagogical policies related to second language acquisition.
Other implications will derive from the publication and presentation of these findings, which is likely to place ERA in the forefront of research in this field. Furthermore, sside from advancing the fellow’s profile, the knowledge and skills acquired during the fellowship will also be placed at the service of the researchers she is training and the research institutions where she will be integrated in the future.