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See Inside May / June 2011

Polyglots Might Have Multiple Personalities

People take on different character traits depending on which language they are using

If you speak multiple languages, you might have multiple personalities. Reporting October 15 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, psychologists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that native Chinese students who were fluent in English appeared more assertive, extraverted and open to new experiences—personality traits often associated with Westerners—when conversing with an interviewer in English as opposed to Cantonese.

The interviewer’s ethnicity mattered, too. In either language, observers rated students as more extraverted, assertive, helpful and open to new experiences when speaking to a Caucasian interviewer as compared with when they talked to a Chinese interviewer.

The authors argue that personalities are not fixed. Instead the language a person is speaking—and with whom—can lead individuals to take on the personality traits of the culture associated with that language or person.

This article was originally published with the title "Speaking with Affect."

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