New paper: Investigating the foreign language effect as a mitigating influence on the ‘optimality bias’ in moral judgements

Bodig, E., Toivo, W., & Scheepers, C. (2019). Investigating the foreign language effect as a mitigating influence on the ‘optimality bias’ in moral judgements. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, DOI: 10.1007/s41809-019-00050-4 .


Abstract Bilinguals often display reduced emotional resonance their second language (L2) and therefore tend to be less prone to decision-making biases in their L2 (e.g., Costa, Foucart, Arnon, Aparici, & Apesteguia, 2014; Costa, Foucart, Hayakawa, et al., 2014) – a phenomenon coined Foreign Language Effect (FLE). The present pre-registered experiments investigated whether FLE can mitigate a special case of cognitive bias, called optimality bias, which occurs when observers erroneously blame actors for making “suboptimal” choices, even when there was not sufficient information available for the actor to identify the best choice (De Freitas & Johnson, 2018). In Experiment 1, L1 English speakers (N=63) were compared to L2 English speakers from various L1 backgrounds (N=56). In Experiment 2, we compared Finnish bilinguals completing the study in either Finnish (L1, N=103) or English (L2, N=108). Participants read a vignette describing the same tragic outcome resulting from either an optimal or suboptimal choice made by a hypothetical actor with insufficient knowledge. Their blame attributions were measured using a 4-item scale. A strong optimality bias was observed; participants assigned significantly more blame in the suboptimal choice conditions, despite being told that the actor did not know which choice was best. However, no clear interaction with language was found. In Experiment 1, bilinguals gave reliably higher blame scores than natives. In Experiment 2, no clear influence of target language was found, but the results suggested that the FLE is actually more detrimental than helpful in the domain of blame attribution. Future research should investigate the benefits of emotional involvement in blame attribution, including factors such as empathy and perspective-taking.

Keywords Bilingualism, Foreign Language Effect, attribution, decision-making, blame

New paper: Hierarchical structure priming from mathematics to two- and three-site relative clause attachment

Scheepers, C. , Galkina, A., Shtyrov, Y., & Myachykov, A. (2019). Hierarchical structure priming from mathematics to two- and three-site relative clause attachment. Cognition, 189, 155-166. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.03.021.


Abstract A number of recent studies found evidence for shared structural representations across different cognitive domains such as mathematics, music, and language. For instance, Scheepers et al. (2011) showed that English speakers’ choices of relative clause (RC) attachments in partial sentences like The tourist guide mentioned the bells of the church that … can be influenced by the structure of previously solved prime equations such as 80–(9 + 1) × 5 (making high RC-attachments more likely) versus 80–9 + 1 × 5 (making low RC-attachments more likely). Using the same sentence completion task, Experiment 1 of the present paper fully replicated this cross-domain structural priming effect in Russian, a morphologically rich language. More interestingly, Experiment 2 extended this finding to more complex three-site attachment configurations and showed that, relative to a structurally neutral baseline prime condition, N1-, N2-, and N3-attachments of RCs in Russian were equally susceptible to structural priming from mathematical equations such as 18+(7+(3 + 11)) × 2, 18 + 7+(3 + 11) × 2, and 18 + 7 + 3 + 11 × 2, respectively. The latter suggests that cross-domain structural priming from mathematics to language must rely on detailed, domain-general representations of hierarchical structure.

Keywords Priming, cross-domain, mathematics, syntax

New paper: Pupillary responses to affective words in bilinguals’ first versus second language

Toivo, W., & Scheepers, C. (2019). Pupillary responses to affective words in bilinguals’ first versus second language. PLoS ONE, 14(4), e0210450, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210450.


Abstract Late bilinguals often report less emotional involvement in their second language, a phenomenon called reduced emotional resonance in L2. The present study measured pupil dilation in response to high- versus low-arousing words (e.g., riot vs. swamp) in German-English and Finnish-English late bilinguals, both in their first and in their second language. A third sample of English monolingual speakers (tested only in English) served as a control group. To improve on previous research, we controlled for lexical confounds such as length, frequency, emotional valence, and abstractness–both within and across languages. Results showed no appreciable differences in post-trial word recognition judgements (98% recognition on average), but reliably stronger pupillary effects of the arousal manipulation when stimuli were presented in participants’ first rather than second language. This supports the notion of reduced emotional resonance in L2. Our findings are unlikely to be due to differences in stimulus-specific control variables or to potential word-recognition difficulties in participants’ second language. Linguistic relatedness between first and second language (German-English vs. Finnish-English) was also not found to have a modulating influence.

Keywords Bilingualism, word processing, emotion, pupillometry

New paper: Random word generation reveals spatial encoding of syllabic word length

Myachykov, A., Chapman, A. J., Beal, J., & Scheepers, C. (2019). Random word generation reveals spatial encoding of syllabic word length. British Journal of Psychology, DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12399.


Abstract Existing random number generation studies demonstrate the presence of an embodied attentional bias in spontaneous number production corresponding to the horizontal Mental Number Line: Larger numbers are produced on right‐hand turns and smaller numbers on left‐hand turns (Loetscher et al.,2008, Curr. Biol., 18, R60). Furthermore, other concepts were also shown to rely on horizontal attentional displacement (Di Bono and Zorzi, 2013, Quart. J. Exp. Psychol., 66, 2348). In two experiments, we used a novel random word generation paradigm combined with two different ways to orient attention in horizontal space: Participants randomly generated words on left and right head turns (Experiment 1) or following left and right key presses (Experiment 2). In both studies, syllabically longer words were generated on right‐hand head turns and following right key strokes. Importantly, variables related to semantic magnitude or cardinality (whether the generated words were plural‐marked, referred to uncountable concepts, or were associated with largeness) were not affected by lateral manipulations. We discuss our data in terms of the ATOM (Walsh, 2015, The Oxford handbook of numerical cognition, 552) which suggests a general magnitude mechanism shared by different conceptual domains.

Keywords SNARC, random word generation, syllabic length, ATOM

New paper: Cross-domain priming from mathematics to relative-clause attachment: A visual-world study in French.

Pozniak, C., Hemforth, B., & Scheepers, C. (2018). Cross-domain priming from mathematics to relative-clause attachment: A visual-world study in French. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:2056. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02056

Continue reading “New paper: Cross-domain priming from mathematics to relative-clause attachment: A visual-world study in French.”

New paper: One step at a time: Representational overlap between active voice, be-passive, and get-passive forms in English

Thompson, D., Ferreira, F., & Scheepers, C. (2018). One step at a time: Representational overlap between active voice, be-passive, and get-passive forms in English. Journal of Cognition, 1(1): 35, pp. 1–24, DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/joc.36.

Continue reading “New paper: One step at a time: Representational overlap between active voice, be-passive, and get-passive forms in English”

New paper: Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts

Barsalou, L. W., Dutriaux, L., & Scheepers, C. (in press). Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0144

Continue reading “New paper: Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts”

New paper: Direct speech quotations promote low relative-clause attachment in silent reading of English

Yao, B., & Scheepers, C. (2018). Direct speech quotations promote low relative-clause attachment in silent reading of English. Cognition, 176, 248–254. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.03.017

Continue reading “New paper: Direct speech quotations promote low relative-clause attachment in silent reading of English”