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The foreign language effect in bilingualism: Examining prosocial sentiment after offense taking

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2021

David Miller*
University of Illinois at Chicago
Cecilia Solis-Barroso
University of Michigan
Rodrigo Delgado
University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


This study examines whether the foreign language effect mitigates reactions to value-inconsistent sociopolitical content. We examined 69 English–Spanish bilinguals and 31 Spanish–English heritage bilinguals, half of whom did the experiment in their native language and half in their second language. Participants were administered a survey in which trial emotiveness was manipulated by using the quantifiers some and all (e.g., Some Trump supporters are racists vs. All Trump supporters are racists). The some-types (n = 30) served as a baseline for the all-types (n = 30). After each target, participants rated their willingness to be prosocial (e.g., holding the door for a stranger) on a scale of 1–7, 1 being totally agree and 7 being totally disagree. Our results suggest that processing emotional information in a second language is less emotional than in a first language and that such a decrease in emotionality results in the neutralization of offense taken. However, individual differences in linguistic profiles across participants, as well as contextual framing, lead to discrete value judgments. Proficiency, learner type, political affiliation, and context type affect willingness to engage in prosocial behavior. As a group, the bilinguals showed no decrease in their willingness to engage in such behaviors, regardless of context type; speakers of higher proficiency and stronger political values increase prosocial sentiment; and lower proficiency and weaker views lead to neutral prosocial sentiment.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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