The emotion of words (native English and native-Mandarin speakers)


Studies comparing explicit affective ratings of words between languages from Western and East-Asian cultures consistently report cultural differences in affective ratings (Lim, 2016; Kacen & Lee, 2002). Specifically, arousal ratings of words rather than valence tend to be higher for Westerners (e.g. American) than Easterners (e.g. Chinese, Japanese) (Kacen & Lee, 2002). This study examines a) potential differences between English and Mandarin native speakers in ratings of valence and arousal and b) the role of English language proficiency.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

We hypothesize that systematic differences will be present for ratings of emotional words in English and Mandarin. Furthermore, Chinese participants judging English words will provide ratings that move in the direction of English ratings as a function of their English proficiency.


178 participants completed the study, 2 participants signed up but did not complete the study.


The first set of materials consist of 920 English words that are rated on a scale from 1-100 for valence and arousal. Each word is judged by both native English or native Mandarin speakers. In addition, we ask Mandarin speakers to translate the English word to their native language, thus addressing a shortcoming of previous work.    The second set of words consists of Mandarin translations, judged by native Mandarin speakers.    In addition to the ratings, English proficiency is measured through a lexical decision task.


Data collection is ongoing and more participants are needed to achieve reliable ratings.    We plan to investigate differences between the typical U-shaped valence/arousal curve for the three groups (English native, Mandarin speakers judging either English or Mandarin words) to test whether ratings systematically differ and whether this difference is modulated by proficiency.


We expect systematic differences between the two languages, especially for arousal ratings as Western-individualist cultures value and experience more high arousal emotions, whereas Eastern or collectivist cultures value and appreciate low arousal emotion (Kuppens et al., 2017). We also expect similar differences when Mandarin speakers are asked to judge English words, but in this case, the difference with native speakers or ratings in Mandarin might be modulated by English language proficiency in the non-native group.    The data will provide a resource of lexical norms in studies on bilingual word processing. The results of these findings will be presented at conferences and submitted for peer-review to specialized journals that cover bilingual language processing.