The interest for studying the interaction between language and emotion has increased in recent years, with the emergent finding of stronger emotional connections to words, sentences, and expressions in one’s native language (L1), as compared to one’s second language (L2). An array of studies has confirmed the phenomenon of stronger emotional arousal from L1 words, both using behavioural and physiological measures. Relatedly, studies have found that bilinguals making decisions in their L2 make more rational decisions when faced with problem solving decisions, and make more utilitarian choices when faced with moral dilemmas, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the foreign language effect. Data from two main studies examining these issues will be presented.

Firstly, a study investigating whether purposeful second language use can reduce distress following the encoding of a negative event will be presented. Results from this study showed that participants reading texts with negative emotional context in their L1 reported increased levels of distress if they then processed the text in their L1, but lower levels of distress if they processed the text in their L2. This indicates that purposeful second language use can, indeed, lower levels of distress.

In the second study, focus will shift to investigating decision making in bilinguals and examining potential boundaries to the foreign language effect. This study consisted of several experiments investigating the potential effect of cultural influence and linguistic similarity on the foreign language effect in decision making.

Put together, these studies will offer some insight in to the interaction between language and emotion, and discuss possible aspects which affect this interaction.