Cultural Experience Influences Multisensory Emotion Perception in Bilinguals

Peiyao Chen*, Ashley Chung-Fat-yim, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Emotion perception frequently involves the integration of visual and auditory information. During multisensory emotion perception, the attention devoted to each modality can be measured by calculating the difference between trials in which the facial expression and speech input exhibit the same emotion (congruent) and trials in which the facial expression and speech input exhibit different emotions (incongruent) to determine the modality that has the strongest influence. Previous crosscultural studies have found that individuals from Western cultures are more distracted by information in the visual modality (i.e., visual interference), whereas individuals from Eastern cultures are more distracted by information in the auditory modality (i.e., auditory interference). These results suggest that culture shapes modality interference in multisensory emotion perception. It is unclear, however, how emotion perception is influenced by cultural immersion and exposure due to migration to a new country with distinct social norms. In the present study, we investigated how the amount of daily exposure to a new culture and the length of immersion impact multisensory emotion perception in Chinese-English bilinguals who moved from China to the United States. In an emotion recognition task, participants viewed facial expressions and heard emotional but meaningless speech either from their previous Eastern culture (i.e., Asian face-Mandarin speech) or from their new Western culture (i.e., Caucasian face-English speech) and were asked to identify the emotion from either the face or voice, while ignoring the other modality. Analyses of daily cultural exposure revealed that bilinguals with low daily exposure to the U.S. culture experienced greater interference from the auditory modality, whereas bilinguals with high daily exposure to the U.S. culture experienced greater interference from the visual modality. These results demonstrate that everyday exposure to new cultural norms increases the likelihood of showing a modality interference pattern that is more common in the new culture. Analyses of immersion duration revealed that bilinguals who spent more time in the United States were equally distracted by faces and voices, whereas bilinguals who spent less time in the United States experienced greater visual interference when evaluating emotional information from the West, possibly due to over-compensation when evaluating emotional information from the less familiar culture. These findings suggest that the amount of daily exposure to a new culture and length of cultural immersion influence multisensory emotion perception in bilingual immigrants. While increased daily exposure to the new culture aids with the adaptation to new cultural norms, increased length of cultural immersion leads to similar patterns in modality interference between the old and new cultures. We conclude that cultural experience shapes the way we perceive and evaluate the emotions of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalLanguages
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Bilingualism
  • Cultural exposure
  • Cultural immersion
  • Emotion
  • Modality interference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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