I think it’s possible to be bicultural, yet monolingual, and still experience an unconscious personality shift when moving between the two cultures.

Are you a different person when you speak a different language?

People who are bicultural and speak two languages may actually shift their personalities when they switch from one language to another, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Language can be a cue that activates different culture-specific frames,” write David Luna (Baruch College), Torsten Ringberg, and Laura A. Peracchio (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

The authors studied groups of Hispanic women, all of whom were bilingual, but with varying degrees of cultural identification. They found significant levels of “frame-shifting” (changes in self perception) in bicultural participants-those who participate in both Latino and Anglo culture. While frame-shifting has been studied before, the new research found that biculturals switched frames more quickly and easily than bilingual monoculturals.

The authors found that the women classified themselves as more assertive when they spoke Spanish than when they spoke English. They also had significantly different perceptions of women in ads when the ads were in Spanish versus English. “In the Spanish-language sessions, informants perceived females as more self-sufficient and extroverted,” write the authors.

In one of the studies, a group of bilingual U.S. Hispanic women viewed ads that featured women in different scenarios. The participants saw the ads in one language (English or Spanish) and then, six months later, they viewed the same ads in the other language. Their perceptions of themselves and the women in the ads shifted depending on the language. “One respondent, for example, saw an ad’s main character as a risk-taking, independent woman in the Spanish version of the ad, but as a hopeless, lonely, confused woman in the English version,” write the authors.

The shift in perception seems to happen unconsciously, and may have broad implications for consumer behavior and political choices among biculturals.

David Luna, Torsten Ringberg, and Laura A. Peracchio. “One Individual, Two Identities: Frame-Switching Among Biculturals” Journal of Consumer Research: August 2008.


2 thoughts on “frame-shifting

  1. I think that can also be true, but not limited to, interacting with other cultures period. For example, in my own experience as a person whose parents are both black, I grew up in mostly black schools and neighborhoods and I have an unconscious shift when I go into settings that are mostly white, asian ( i lived in Japan also), etc…I mean literally the tone in my voice changes, my pronunciation changes, I become more direct without really any effort on my part. I think a lot of blacks experience this, we call the difference our “at home voice and our Get a Job voice”, Lol! But seriously I think it’s all about comfort level that determines how we act in particular situations. We usually don’t act the same way at work that we do at home, the Filipina women I worked with were more animated when speaking in Tagalog than English and plenty of other scenarios…this was an interesting article though….

  2. I wonder how much of what is described here related to the person’s comfort level with the second culture and/or language and how much is related to the culture itself.


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