Emotions form the language we use; but a second language helps them get around

Original author: David Miller
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Recently a taxi driver cut me off the highway. I immediately blurted out to the address of this poor fellow a set of curses. What surprised me was that all these words were in Spanish. For me, as a person who grew up in an English-speaking environment, and who learned Spanish as an adult, English should have been more accessible. However, I cursed this stranger in Spanish with a Mexican accent, showing appropriate gestures with my hands.

Most people are familiar with the feeling of how emotions in such situations get the better of the mind, but why is it so often easier to blow off steam using a non-native language? Most of the people who study a foreign language can rejoice at the fact that it is quite easy to raise any forbidden topics with a second language, and moreover, it is even fun. And if I do not swear in English in the presence of my grandmother, then in Spanish I swear like Tony Montana .

And, by the way, there is a scientific explanation for why we are often much easier to distance ourselves from emotions using a foreign language. Besides the fact that because of this detachment it is easier for us to speak all kinds of lewdness, recent studies have shown that it can change our perception of morality.

Language forms our brain

Our brain forms not only genetics, but also experience; besides, from birth, we perceive a large layer of life through language. Years of immersion in our native language offer us a deep understanding of its use with certain people and in certain contexts. We know when it is proper to talk about the unpleasant case of gastroenteritis , and when not. We learn to bite the tongue when our boss upsets us and are able to appreciate the beauty of poetry while caring for a partner.

Whether we are discussing taboo topics, cursing, or even listening to certain songs and music — language in certain contexts readily produces an enhanced emotional response. In this sense, our native language and emotions are connected together, which makes forbidden words forbidden, and inspiring words inspiring, because our brains were formed through repetitive experience.

Accordingly, our experience affects the development of neural pathways in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling and managing emotions, for example, in the insular lobe and amygdala . Our experience also helps to form the prefrontal cortex.which is engaged not only in the regulation of impulses and emotions, but also places in itself many high-level cognitive abilities - the ability to reason and make decisions.

The combination of these processes inextricably binds emotions and decision making. Given the all-pervasive role of language in everyday life and its connection with emotions and logical reasoning, it is clear that it influences our behavior. What about non-native language?

Actions hurt more than words

Unfortunately, we make the majority of decisions based on hidden, automatic and very emotional reflexes. Emotion-activated parts of the brain react to events faster than rational regions of the cortex. In general, however, emotions work in conjunction with the mind. The dichotomy of these two concepts is actually false, because they are inextricably intertwined.

To make it clearer, think about the following question: could you kill a stranger in order to save the lives of others? Most people respond in the affirmative, which seems to demonstrate a desire for the common good, but a careful reflection on the murder would certainly cause a serious emotional response. After all, murder violates many of our concepts of morality.

However a recent studysheds light on the factors that destroy the interaction of logic and emotion. The study found that if the ethical problem — choosing whether to kill a stranger in order to save lives — was offered to people in their non-native language, the worse a person could communicate in that language, the more likely he was to choose murder. Interestingly, this second-language effect manifested itself more strongly when the method of killing turned out to be more contact — for example, personally pushing a person off the bridge, instead of shifting the lever to redirect the train.

Many of the feelings associated with a foreign language are not as emotionally colored as those associated with a native language, so the authors of the study attribute the result to a diminished emotional response between a person and his second language. As a result, the decision-making process is slower and more elaborate, with a more thorough risk assessment. In other words, decisions made in a foreign language are not as susceptible to emotional distortion as those made in a native language.

Our bilingual world, of course, does not consist only of pupils who study a second language, like those who participated in the study, and the sensations of bilingual people do not repeat each other. Many people speaking two languages ​​have a deeper connection to the second language. However, it is clear that the influence of bilingualism may go beyond simple etiquette. In a world that is becoming increasingly global, many people may find themselves in a situation in which they will make decisions in a foreign language. Whether they save lives or vote for another government representative, an awareness of the many factors that influence decision making can help us make better decisions.

And, although bilingual people tend to wreak havoc on the streets no more than any other part of society, the next time you use Chinese to shed milk, remember that bilingualism can help both establish meaningful interaction between logic and emotions, and stop it.

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