Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Kaitlyn Harrigan

Committee Members

Peter Vishton

Rachel Varra

Katherine Barko-Alva


Previous literature has suggested that bilingual people react to emotional statements with varying degrees of intensity due to their personal experience with each language. Potential factors affecting emotional differences between languages included fluency, culture, age of acquisition, amount of exposure, language learning environment, and motivation. Isolating the impact of these factors on emotional experience challenges research because the factors cannot be easily controlled or separated. The current study investigated how the factors of age of acquisition, length of language exposure, and language-learning environment played a role in emotional reactions to similar stimuli by manipulating the language of the emotional stimuli, Spanish or English. Participants were Spanish-English bilinguals, 20 children and 41 adults, proficient in understanding both languages at the level of a typical children’s story. Each participant watched six cartoon stories, three in Spanish and three in English, where one story in each language was either designed to induce positive emotion, negative emotion, or neutral emotion. Participants rated emotions by indicating which face on a Likert scale best matched how the story made them feel. This information, combined with the participant’s reported language background information, reported on a language history survey, served as the basis of analysis. Overall, there was a slight preference of Spanish as the more strongly emotional language despite the dominant proficiency being in English, M= -0.27, SD= 1.07. Length of Spanish exposure was significantly correlated with Spanish emotional difference, and there was a trend between childhood home language dominance and emotional language difference with Spanish-dominant participants having more emotional responses in English on average than English-dominant participants, F (1, 57)= 4.47, p=0.04.

Keywords: bilingualism, emotion, language, exposure, age of acquisition, environment

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.