New Publication in Psychological Science

Seeing a Face activates the Language that the Face Speaks…

NaamloosBilinguals have two languages that are activated in parallel. During speech production, language selection must occur on the basis of some cue. The present study investigated whether the face of an interlocutor can serve as such a cue. Spanish- Catalan and Dutch-French bilinguals were first familiarised with certain faces and their corresponding language during simulated Skype conversations. Afterwards, they carried out a language production task, in which they generated words associated with the words produced by familiar and unfamiliar faces on screen. Participants produced words faster when they had to respond to familiar faces speaking the same language as previously in the Skype simulation, compared to the same face speaking the unexpected language. Furthermore, this language priming effect disappeared when it became clear that the interlocutor was actually a bilingual. This suggests that faces can prime a language, but their cueing effect disappears when it turns out that they are unreliable as language cue.


Woumans, E., Martin, C. D., Vanden Bulcke, C., Van Assche, E., Costa, A., Hartsuiker, R. J., & Duyck, W. (in press). Can faces prime a language. Psychological Science. PDF available here

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