ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (7): 861-873.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00861

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The effects of foreign language anxiety, nervousness and cognitive load on foreign language lying: Evidence from Chinese-English bilinguals

ZHANG Jijia1(), LU Yutong1, ZHANG Qirui2, ZHANG Jinqiao3   

  1. 1 Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China; The State Ethnic Affairs Commission Key Research Center for Language, Cultural, and Psychology; Key Research Center for National Psychology and Education, the National Education Development Center of the Ministry of Education, Beijing 100872, China
    2 School of Law and Criminology, People’s Public Security University of China, Beijing 100038, China
    3 College of Chinese Language and Culture, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510610, China
  • Received:2019-08-16 Published:2020-07-25 Online:2020-05-25
  • Contact: ZHANG Jijia
  • Supported by:
    key project of ethnic studies of the State Commission for nationalities, “Research on the cognitive law of bilingual learning of ethnic minority students”(2017-GMA-004)


Lying is a common social behavior. When people lie, they are affected by many factors, such as cognitive load and nervousness. Therefore, people act differently when they are lying. Similar to lying, there are also differences in cognitive load and emotions when people speak their native language or a foreign language. When people are speaking a foreign language, the cognitive load and foreign language anxiety are greater than when speaking their native language, especially for those with lower proficiency. Therefore, these factors might influence or interact with lying in speaking native or foreign languages. Former studies which observed SCRs and pupil size have found that comparing to lying in their native language, there are more lying features when people lie in a foreign language. The current study aims to explore the differences in neural mechanism between Chinese-English bilinguals lying in Chinese and English, and focuses on the effects of two specific factors: cognitive load and emotion.
The study of 34 Chinese-English bilinguals adopted the misstatement paradigm. During the experiment, participants were required to describe the pictures in Chinese and English on the screen according to the “truth” or “lie” instructions. The accuracy and EEG data were collected for analysis. Two ERP components were found in the study: P200 and CNV (Contingent Negative Variation). P200 is a positive potential that appears at around 200 ms after the stimulus is presented, and is often considered related with emotional arousal. In this study, P200 was used as an indicator for early anxiety. Larger P200 indicates greater anxiety. CNV occurs around 1000~1500 ms after the emergence stimulation. Larger CNV reflects heavier cognitive load and can be an indicator of lying.
By observing P200 and CNV, the results are as follows: (1) Comparing with speaking Chinese, there was a lager P200 when Chinese-English bilinguals speak English, which indicated that speaking a foreign language aroused anxiety; (2) The P200s were not significantly different between lying and telling truth in English. However, the P200s were significantly different between lying and telling truth in Chinese, which indicated that comparing with speaking the native language, the tension induced by lying is not as great as speaking a foreign language; (3) Chinese-English bilinguals showed greater CNV when lying than when telling truth, which suggested that lying contained heavier cognitive load than telling truth; (4) There was a larger CNV when Chinese-English bilinguals lied in English than in Chinese, which indicated that lying in a foreign language brought heavier cognitive load; (5) The results of correlation analysis showed that English proficiency was an important variable that affected those differences when lying in both native and foreign languages.
The current study suggested that both cognitive load and emotion affected lying behavior in either the native or foreign language. Lying brings heavier cognitive load than telling truth, and lying in a foreign language brings heavier cognitive load than in the native language. Moreover, people are more anxious when speaking a foreign language than when speaking their native language, no matter when they are lying or telling truth. Foreign language anxiety takes so much cognitive load that the tension caused by lying is not significant when people lie in foreign language. Further research is suggested focusing more on the contribution and interactions of the factors which have effects on the process.

Key words: foreign language, native language, lie, cognitive load, foreign language anxiety, nervousness