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Slide Slam E5

The effect of immersion on emotional word processing in a second language: an fMRI study

Slide Slam Session E, Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 5:30 - 7:30 pm PDT Log In to set Timezone

Chunlin Liu1, Hyeonjeong Jeong1, Jean Marc Dewaele2, Haining Cui1, Kiyo Okamoto1, Yuichi Suzuki3, Motoaki Sugiura1; 1Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, 2Birkbeck, University of London, 3Kanagawa University, Tokyo, Japan

Studies on the embodiment of emotional words in a second language (L2) have received increasing attention recently. In behavioral L2 studies, Harris (2006) and Dewaele (2010) suggested that learning context is a critical factor influencing the processing of emotional words, and L2 can be made emotional if it has been used frequently in immersive contexts (e.g., study abroad settings). However, limited research has explored the effect of immersion on the neural representation of L2 emotional words. Hence, we conducted an fMRI experiment to explore the neural correlates of the immersion effect on emotional word processing with L2 learners who had varied immersion intensities in study abroad settings. The participants were 41 healthy, right-handed Chinese native speakers living in Japan (mean age 24.95, 24 females). All Chinese speakers learned Japanese as their L2. Their L2 proficiency level was measured by the Japanese C-test, which requires the participants to fill in the missing words that have been deleted within a short text. In order to assess the intensity of immersion, we adopted the Study Abroad Social Interaction Questionnaire (SASIQ, Dewey, 2012), where participants estimated how many hours per week they communicated with acquaintances (limited to Japanese speakers) who scored five and above in an intimacy rating task (from “1” an acquaintance to “8” a very close friend). The total hours of communication with Japanese speakers were adopted as an indicator of immersion intensity. The participants performed an auditory lexical decision task with four types of auditory words [40 positive words, 40 negative words, 40 neutral words, and 80 nonwords] inside the fMRI scanner. Statistical analyses were performed with SPM12, using a random-effects model. To identify the immersion effect on L2 word processing, we performed whole-brain multiple regression analyses with the immersion intensity scores of each participant as an independent variable and brain activity as a dependent variable, using the contrasts of each type of words vs. Nonwords. To control the level of linguistic proficiency, we entered the C-test score as a covariate. A significant positive correlation was observed in the contrast of [Positive words > Nonwords] between the left ventral striatum activity and immersion intensity scores (p < 0.05 FWE-corrected voxel-wise). However, no significant correlation was found in the contrasts of [Negative words > Nonwords] and [Neutral words > Nonwords]. These results may reflect that learners had more chances to use positive words in real-life contexts, known as a positive advantage (Sheikh & Titone, 2016). As immersion intensity increases, L2 learners may efficiently retrieve the conceptual knowledge of positive emotion words and readily integrate their experiences and semantic knowledge to process L2 emotional words.

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