Processing emotional information: The association between attentional control biases and suicidal behavior in Chinese- English bilingual students

Written by Elsie Ong on . Posted in Volume XXIV, Nr 1


Elsie Ong1,2*

1School of Health Sciences, University of Salford, Salford, United Kingdom
2Faculty of Education, Division of Information and Technology Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Suicide prevalence is especially concerning in China, with 25% of the global suicide deaths occurring in this population and up to 20% of Chinese students reporting suicidal ideation. Past research shows that individuals with a higher suicide risk display greater negative emotional biases in Emotional Stroop tasks, while bilinguals usually display an attentional control advantage. Thus, the general main aim was to investigate the association between the Emotional Stroop interference effect and suicidal behavior in Chinese-English bilingual students. As of yet, it is unknown whether the words used in the Emotional Stroop task exert a greater impact when presented in a bilingual’s first language (L1) or in their second language (L2). In this respect, Study 1 was conducted with 58 Chinese- English bilinguals, who rated the valence and arousal of words presented in both Chinese (L1) and English (L2). Contrasting most of the previous findings, results showed that perceived emotionality was actually higher when negative words were presented in L2. Study 2 aimed to explore bilinguals’ differences in emotional information processing, and whether these would impact the association between attentional control and suicidal behavior. Forty bilingual Chinese undergraduate students were assigned to two groups according to their self-reported suicidal behavior and, following results from Study 1, completed the Emotional Stroop task in L2. The results showed that the association between students’ attentional control biases and their suicidal behavior scores was nonsignificant. Thus, findings suggest that, in the case of bilinguals, attentional control biases cannot be used as an indicator of suicide risk, highlighting the importance of both individual differences and methodology differences when investigating suicide risk.

Keywords: processing advantage, bilinguals, Emotional Stroop effect, suicide behavior, attentional bias



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