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Article

Two Languages, Two Personalities?


Examining Language Effects on
the Expression of Personality
in a Bilingual Context

Personality and Social


Psychology Bulletin
36(11) 15141528
2010 by the Society for Personality
and Social Psychology, Inc
Reprints and permission:
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DOI: 10.1177/0146167210385360
http://pspb.sagepub.com

Sylvia Xiaohua Chen1 and Michael Harris Bond1

Abstract
The issue of whether personality changes as a function of language is controversial. The present research tested the cultural
accommodation hypothesis by examining the impact of language use on personality as perceived by the self and by others.
In Study 1, Hong Kong Chinese-English bilinguals responded to personality inventories in Chinese or English on perceived
traits for themselves, typical native speakers of Chinese, and typical native speakers of English. Study 2 adopted a repeated
measures design and collected data at three time points from written measures and actual conversations to examine whether
bilinguals exhibited different patterns of personality, each associated with one of their two languages and the ethnicity of their
interlocutors. Self-reports and behavioral observations confirmed the effects of perceived cultural norms, language priming,
and interlocutor ethnicity on various personality dimensions. It is suggested that use of a second language accesses the perceived cultural norms of the group most associated with that language, especially its prototypic trait profiles, thus activating
behavioral expressions of personality that are appropriate in the corresponding linguistic-social context.
Keywords
bilingual personality, language prime, cultural accommodation, cultural priming, Chinese-English bilinguals
Received April 19, 2009; revision accepted June 9, 2010

Do bilinguals have two personalities? This intriguing issue is


controversial in the fields of personality and social psychology, since research testing language effects on personality has
been scarce and equivocal. On one hand, personality has long
been conceptualized as stable over time and consistent across
situations (e.g., Byrne & Kelly, 1981; Pervin, 1980). From
this perspective, language is not a contextual factor that could
shift a bilinguals personality, but merely a tool that permits
the expression of underlying traits. On the other hand, studies
on cultural priming have documented language effects on
values, self-concept, relationality, and cognition (Oyserman
& Lee, 2008), but only a few published studies directly address
the issue of whether bilinguals exhibit cross-language differences in personality.
Ervin (1964) administered the Thematic Apperception Test
verbally in French and English to French-English bilinguals
using the same pictures across a 6-week interval. The stories
were tape-recorded, transcribed, and content-analyzed.
Achievement themes were more commonly found in the
English stories among female bilinguals, whereas verbal
aggression against peers, autonomy, or withdrawal from others
were more common in the French stories. Based on these

findings, the author inferred that bilinguals had two personalities, at least in terms of their verbal productions.
Hull (1996) tested three groups of immigrants, namely,
Chinese, Korean, and Mexican Americans, who had learned
English after they had immigrated to the United States. Using
the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) as a measure of
personality, the author adopted a within-subjects, repeated
measures design by administering the CPI twice over intervals
of 5 to 15 days, in English and in the bilinguals native languages of Chinese, Korean, or Spanish, respectively. Significant differences were found on most scales across the three
cultural groups to the same English-language version. This
result could be considered as showing cultural differences in
traits. Between-language, within-group differences were also
detected and could be considered as demonstrating crosslanguage differences in traits within the same respondent.
1

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Corresponding Author:
Sylvia Xiaohua Chen, Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Email: ssxhchen@polyu.edu.hk

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Given that Hull (1990) had earlier found similar results with
a different measure of personality, the author concluded that
these studies had demonstrated cross-language differences
in personality, namely, two languages, two personalities
(Hull, 1990).
Recent research in support of personality shift as a function of language was conducted by Ramrez-Esparza, Gosling,
Benet-Martnez, Potter, and Pennebaker (2006), examining
cultural frame switching (CFS; Hong, Morris, Chiu, &
Benet-Martnez, 2000) in the domain of personality. Using
the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John, 1990; John & Srivastava,
1999), they found that in English, Spanish bilinguals responded
in a more American manner, reporting themselves to be more
extraverted, agreeable, and conscientious, but less neurotic,
a personality pattern consistent with the modal personality
type of Americans among whom the Spanish bilinguals had
learned their English. The researchers thus concluded that
language activated CFS for these personality dimensions, not
because of translation effects or self-enhancement tendencies,
but because of cultural shifts appropriate to the language communities involved.

Bilingual Personality
Butcher and colleagues (e.g., Butcher, 1996, 2004) have extensively investigated language effects on personality assessment,
particularly on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and MMPI-2, and have emphasized the importance of understanding cultural influences on personality. For
effective cross-cultural applications and adaptations of personality tests, they suggested using bilingual test-retest studies,
in which the English version and the target-language version
are administered to a group of bilinguals within an interval of
1 to 2 weeks (Butcher, Mosch, Tsai, & Nezami, 2006). The
bilingual test-retest design can remove the variance stemming
from individual differences and estimate the variance due to
language and all interactions involving language.
As bilinguals differ in the contexts where they acquire their
two languages, what linguistic and social features they respond
to in language manipulations may well differ (Ervin, 1961;
Weinrich, 1953). Coordinate bilinguals acquire and use their
first and second languages in separate and distinct cultural
environments. For instance, some immigrants learn their
English after arriving in the United States. In contrast, compound bilinguals acquire their two languages in the same
cultural environment. A widespread example is individuals
who learn a second language in local schools while residing
in their mother-tongue culture. Previous studies have sampled
coordinate bilinguals to investigate personality differences
across linguistic contexts (e.g., Ervin, 1964; Hull, 1996). The
two languages of these bilinguals activate corresponding cultural scripts, and behavioral expressions associated with those
cultural systems are thus more readily elicited from coordinate
bilinguals (Ervin & Osgood, 1954).

Conceivably, these observable differences in bilingual personality could also be attributed to an acculturation effect
(McCrae, Yik, Trapnell, Bond, & Paulhus, 1998). First, physically relocating from one culture to another may bring about
changes in immigrants personality or behavioral expressions
associated with different social roles and developmental stages
assumed in the second-language culture. Second, language
may influence the social judgment of respondents, a term
coined by McCrae et al. (1998), referring to processes of
person perception, social comparison, and self-presentation
in ways that affect responses to personality questionnaires
(p. 1050). That is, the implicit standards set by the norms of
their host culture and their own ethnic communities may lead
immigrants to rate themselves accordingly in their host and
native languages, thereby choosing response options to
describe themselves in culturally appropriate yet distinguishable ways. Hence, their cross-language differences in reported
traits might reflect different expression of personality associated with the social roles attached to a given language.

Cultural Accommodation Hypothesis


In their meta-analysis on cultural priming, Oyserman and Lee
(2008) identified 10 studies using language as a priming
method, but the overall effect of language priming was relatively weak. It remains unclear what exactly is being evoked
by language use, as the meanings and structure of language
are highly contextualized by political and historical factors
(Oyserman & Lee, 2007).
We use the cultural accommodation hypothesis to ascertain
what processes are being evoked by language use and suggest
that language activates bilinguals perception of differences
in cultural norms, which then guide their behavior and affect
the expression of their personality. As such, one of the mechanisms underlying language effects on personality is the perceived norms of prototypic personality characteristics in the
corresponding cultural group. Because language functions as
a communication tool, the use of a given language creates a
social situation for receiving and delivering messages by
means of either written or spoken channels. In this interactive
situation, a bilinguals expression of intrapersonal dispositions is contingent on both the salient features of the social
situation, that is, the first versus second language being used,
and the expected dispositions of their interlocutor, that is, the
perception of the prototypic personality characterizing the
interlocutors cultural group. The press to make culturally
congruent responses in a cooperative interpersonal exchange
then motivates the bilingual to accommodate his or her expressions to the interlocutors cultural norms, personality, values,
and beliefs.
Earlier studies in line with the cultural accommodation
framework have demonstrated that people change their
communicative behaviors and converge to or diverge from
the outgroup (e.g., Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005; Giles &

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(11)

Ogay, 2006). Mixed findings on cultural accommodation


have been documented for the expression of values and
self-construals (e.g., Bond, 1983; Bond & Yang, 1982;
Kemmelmeier & Cheng, 2004; Ralston, Cunniff, & Gustafson,
1995; Watkins & Gerong, 1999; Yang & Bond, 1980). However, such evidence for personality traits is still scarce. The
equivocal pattern of results, that is, two languages eliciting
two personalities versus weak language effects in priming
studies, signifies the need to make finer grained analyses of
language and culture.

The Present Study


The objectives of the present study are to adopt multiple methods to disentangle the effects of language and culture on personality in the bilingual context and to uncover the mechanisms
underlying such language effects. The limitation of self-reports
on ones own personality, as pointed out by McCrae et al.
(1998), is that
the same individual is both target and rater, and we do
not yet know whether culture has affected the personality
characteristics of the target or the social judgment characteristics of the rater, or both. As long as personality
assessment is limited to self-reports, these questions
cannot be answered, because substantive variance is
confounded with method variance. (p. 1050)
To disentangle target and rater judgment calls for assessment
procedures that go beyond self-reports.
We conducted two studies among Chinese-English bilinguals in Hong Kong to test the cultural accommodation
hypothesis on personality and examine whether compound
bilinguals also exhibit cross-language differences in personality. Hong Kongs colonial background and current conditions
provide unique samples of compound bilinguals, who identify
with both Chinese and Western cultures (Chen, Benet-Martnez,
& Bond, 2008). Using written measures, Study 1 adopted a
between-subjects design to identify bilinguals perceptions
of their own traits and prototypic traits in Chinese- and Englishspeaking cultures. Study 2 used a within-subjects, repeated
measures design with multiple time points to evaluate
whether bilinguals exhibit their perceived prototypic traits
of the culture primed by spoken language and interlocutor
ethnicity.
At Time 1 and Time 2, we measured bilinguals selfperceived traits, perceived traits of native Chinese speakers,
and perceived traits of native English speakers, in their two
languages. At Time 3, bilinguals carried out actual conversations in both languages with native Chinese and English speakers, separately. These conversations were videotaped and later
rated independently by two bilingual observers. By incorporating an intrapersonal variable (perceived norms), an interpersonal variable (interlocutor ethnicity), and a contextual

variable (language used) in the same study, we intend to take


a social view of language effects on the expression of personality and gain insight into bilingual personality, using the
Person Situation paradigm.

Study 1
Contextualized personality has usually been studied in rolerelated contexts, suggesting that personality shift is a function
of changes in social roles (e.g., Heller, Watson, Komar, Min,
& Perunovic, 2007). In the bilingual context, personality differences could arise from varying social roles typically enacted
across languages. Often, bilinguals adjust their behaviors and
are perceived differently because they undertake one role in
their first language and another role in their second language,
such as immigrants who speak their native language with
family members at home and English with colleagues at work.
So, if they report more communal traits in their native language
than in English but more agentic traits in English than in their
native language, it is difficult to tease apart the effects of
language, culture, and social role. The present research sampled university students in Hong Kong who had not experienced a physical relocation from one culture to another. These
bilinguals had spent most of their time on campus as students
using both Chinese and English, thus reducing switch-over in
roles associated with language use.
In McCrae et al.s (1998) study, Hong Kong Chinese (who
responded in Chinese and English) or Canadian-born Chinese
(who responded in English) scored lower on Extraversion
and Openness to Experience but higher on Agreeableness and
three facets of Neuroticism, such as Anxiety, when compared
to North Americans (who responded in English); the findings
were mixed for the Conscientiousness factor. Yik, Bond, and
Paulhus (1998) found that Hong Kong Chinese (who responded
in Chinese) perceived themselves to be lower on the personality dimensions of Emotional Stability, Sociability, Helpfulness, Application, and Restraint (Yik & Bond, 1993) than
their peers perceived them to be on those same dimensions.
These findings provided a basis for us to predict the direction
of effects in the present study.
Perception effects. We anticipated that Hong Kong bilinguals
would perceive native speakers of English as higher on Extraversion and Openness to Experience than native speakers of
Chinese, and native speakers of Chinese as higher on Agreeableness and Neuroticism than native speakers of English.
Given the consistently higher academic achievement of
Chinese students (Stevenson & Lee, 1996), we expected that
native speakers of Chinese would be perceived as higher on
Conscientiousness than native speakers of English.
Language effects. Accordingly, when responding in Chinese,
bilinguals would exhibit traits consistent with their own perceptions of typical Chinese speakers; in English, they would
exhibit traits consistent with their perceptions of typical
English speakers.

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Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Reliability Coefficients () of Participant Ratings for the Big Five Inventory in Study 1
Self-perception
Chinese
Factor
Extraversion
Agreeableness
Conscientiousness
Neuroticism
Openness to
Experience

Perception of native Chinese


speakers

Perception of native English


speakers

Chinese

Chinese

English

English

English

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

2.82
3.29
3.08
3.20
3.05

0.72
0.53
0.65
0.82
0.56

.80
.61
.78
.86
.69

2.92
3.49
3.23
3.15
3.17

0.64
0.49
0.53
0.73
0.61

.77
.64
.69
.81
.75

3.07
2.70
3.30
3.22
2.74

0.62
0.50
0.55
0.54
0.56

.74
.62
.73
.71
.72

3.15
2.68
3.42
3.38
2.75

0.54
0.60
0.52
0.50
0.50

.68
.78
.72
.62
.65

3.96
3.27
3.11
2.47
3.77

0.48
0.49
0.57
0.43
0.41

.69
.66
.82
.66
.67

3.93
3.23
2.99
2.68
3.79

0.42
0.50
0.51
0.38
0.42

.60
.69
.73
.48
.65

Method
Participants. The sample consisted of 213 (104 males and
109 females) university students, with a mean age of 20.58
(SD = 1.51). Participants were Chinese and English bilinguals
(all of Chinese descent) recruited from the Chinese University
of Hong Kong and invited to take part in the study on a voluntary basis. Born and brought up in Chinese culture, participants were all compound bilinguals.
Measures. The original English version of the instruments
was translated into Chinese by bilinguals using the backtranslation method (Brislin, 1986) and verified by another
bilingual. The equivalence of meaning on all items was ensured
through consultations with native Chinese and English
speakers.
Big Five Inventory (BFI; John, 1990; John & Srivastava, 1999).
Three versions of the BFI were employed to measure the perceived personality of the self, typical native speakers of
Chinese, and typical native speakers of English (primarily
British and Americans). Responses to each target were
anchored on 5-point Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). As a well-established measure
of personality, the BFI uses 44 short phrases to assess the most
prototypical traits associated with the Big Five factors (see
John, 1990), namely, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. The
reliability coefficients of the five factors for each language
and each target are presented in Table 1.
Language proficiency and usage (Benet-Martnez & Haritatos,
2005). Participants were asked to report on both their first and
second languages in the following domains: (a) language
ability (e.g., Rate your overall Chinese language ability),
(b) past and present language usage (e.g., How much do you
use/have used Chinese to speak with your parents?), and
(c) media exposure (e.g., How often do you watch TV shows/
movies in Chinese?). The two scales consist of 14 items rated
on 6-point Likert-type scales, with those items tapping language ability ranging from 1 (very little ability) to 6 (very high
ability) and the rest from 1 (almost never) to 6 (very often).

In this study, Cronbachs alphas for Chinese and English proficiency and usage were .68 and .74, respectively, for the
Chinese group and were both .78 for the English group.
Procedure. The questionnaire sets were administered in quiet
classrooms to participants in small groups. We randomly
assigned about half of the participants (n = 105) to complete
the English version (52 males and 53 females) and the other
half (n = 108) to complete the Chinese version (52 males and
56 females). They also reported demographic information,
including age and gender. We assured participants of their
confidentiality and collected anonymous self-reports on the
previously described instruments.

Results and Discussion


Descriptive statistics, including means and standard deviations
of the measures, are presented in Table 1. First, we checked
the equivalence of the two groups derived from the language
manipulation. No significant differences were found in language proficiency and usage between the two groups assigned
to the English and Chinese versions, ps > .05. Thus, any differences in responding as a function of questionnaire language
did not arise because of differential language ability or usage.
To test for language effects and perception effects on the
five personality factors as hypothesized, we conducted five
sets of 2 3 ANOVAs (see Table 2). The dependent variables
were the five personality factors, as measured by the BFI. The
between-subjects factor was language group (English and
Chinese); the within-subjects factor was type of target (selfperception, perception of native Chinese speakers, and perception of native English speakers). The target main effects and
Language Target interaction effects were tested using the
multivariate criterion of Wilkss lambda.
For the personality factor of Extraversion, the target main
effect was significant, F(2, 210) = 204.68, p < .001, whereas
the Language Target interaction was not, F(2, 211) = 1.46,
p > .05. The univariate test associated with the language
main effect was not significant, F(1, 211) = 1.46, p > .05.
Simple main effect analyses indicated that across the two

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Table 2. ANOVA for Self-Ratings in Study 1


Source
Extraversion
Target
Language
Target Language
Agreeableness
Target
Language
Target Language
Conscientiousness
Target
Language
Target Language
Neuroticism
Target
Language
Target Language
Openness to Experience
Target
Language
Target Language

df

2
1
2

204.68
1.46
0.76

< .001
> .05
> .05

.66
.01
.01

2
1
2

114.05
1.15
4.82

< .001
> .05
< .01

.52
.01
.04

2
1
2

17.49
1.31
3.41

< .001
> .05
< .05

.14
.01
.03

2
1
2

133.54
5.26
0.98

< .001
< .05
> .05

.56
.02
.02

2
1
2

231.70
1.67
0.60

< .001
> .05
> .05

.69
.01
.01

languages, participants perceived themselves as significantly


less extraverted than typical native speakers of Chinese, who
were in turn less extraverted than typical native speakers of
English, ps < .001.
For Agreeableness, the target main effect was significant,
F(2, 210) = 114.05, p < .001, as well as the Language Target
interaction effect, F(2, 210) = 4.82, p < .01; the language main
effect was not significant, F(1, 211) = 1.15, p > .05. We then
conducted t tests to follow up the significant interaction. Using
Holms sequential Bonferroni approach to control for familywise error rate across multiple hypothesis tests (Green &
Salkind, 2003), two of the three tetrad comparisons were significant. The comparison with the smallest p value was the
mean difference across the two languages between the self
and typical native speakers of English, t(211) = 2.64, p = .009,
which was less than = .05/3 = .0167. The comparison with
the next smallest p value was the mean difference across languages between the self and typical native speakers of Chinese,
t(211) = 2.45, p = .015, which was less than = .05/2 = .025.
The last comparison was the mean difference across languages
between typical native speakers of Chinese and native speakers
of English, t(211) = .19, p = .847, which was more than an =
.05/1 = .05, and thus nonsignificant. In other words, across
languages, participants perceived themselves as significantly
more agreeable than typical native speakers of English, who
were in turn perceived as significantly more agreeable than
typical native speakers of Chinese, ps < .05. This difference
was greater between languages in self-perceptions, p < .05,
where participants reported themselves to be more agreeable when responding in English than in Chinese.

For Openness to Experience, only the target main effect


was significant, F(2, 210) = 231.70, p < .001; neither the
Language Target interaction effect nor the language main
effect was significant, F(2, 210) = .60, and F(1, 211) = 1.67,
respectively, ps > .05. Across languages, participants perceived
typical native speakers of English as significantly more open
than native speakers of Chinese, p < .001, whereas self-ratings
were significantly lower than those for native speakers of
English but higher than those for native speakers of Chinese,
ps < .001.
For Conscientiousness, the target main effect was significant, F(2, 210) = 17.49, p < .001, as well as the Language
Target interaction effect, F(2, 210) = 3.41, p < .05; the main
effect of language was not significant, F(1, 211) = 1.31, p >
.05. Interaction comparisons showed different patterns for
conscientiousness across English and Chinese. In English,
participants perceived typical native speakers of Chinese as
significantly more conscientious than typical native speakers of
English, with themselves scoring between the two groups. In
Chinese, they perceived typical native speakers of Chinese to
be more conscientious than themselves and typical native
speakers of English, with no difference between these latter
two targets.
For Neuroticism, the main effects of target and language
were significant, F(2, 210) = 133.54, p < .001, and F(1, 211) =
5.26, p < .05, respectively, whereas the Language Target
interaction effect was not significant, F(2, 210) = .98, p > .05.
Participants perceived typical native speakers of Chinese as
significantly more neurotic than typical native speakers of
English, p < .05, with this effect stronger in English than in
Chinese, and themselves as closer to typical native speakers
of Chinese, p > .05. They perceived themselves as slightly
more neurotic in Chinese than in English, but at the trend
level, p = .073.
In summary, target of perception effects were evident for
all five factors, consistent with our hypotheses (except for
the direction of Agreeableness). Native speakers of English
were perceived as higher on Extraversion and Openness to
Experience than those of Chinese, whereas native speakers
of Chinese were perceived as higher on Neuroticism and
Conscientiousness than those of English. Yet, bilinguals perceived native speakers of English as higher on Agreeableness
than those of Chinese, perhaps because the native speakers
of English whom they encountered in Hong Kong are mostly
friendly, sociable, and supportive, especially in academic
settings (Bond, 1986). Language effects were smaller relative
to target effects, and only significant for Neuroticism. The
directions of self-rated Extraversion and Openness to Experience were in line with prototypic cultural traits, higher in
English than in Chinese at the trend level, but did not reach
statistical significance.
Study 1 demonstrated the effects of perception on different cultural groups and yet could not confirm the cultural
accommodation hypothesis directly. The stimulus of a

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second language in self-report personality inventories may
not constitute a social situation strong enough to evoke the
motive of accommodating to the norms of the corresponding
culture. Speaking a second language with a real partner, however, creates a stronger prime for assessing the effects of language and interactions involving language on the behavioral
expression of personality.

from bilinguals expected personality dispositions of their


conversational partners. When communicating with native
speakers of English, bilinguals would exhibit typical Western
traits, that is, score higher on Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness, than when communicating with
native speakers of Chinese.

Method

Study 2
Study 1 used self-report inventories to examine personality
differences in the bilingual context. However, such inventories
are limited to assessing self-perceived personality rather than
personality as perceived by others. In a social context, personality also presents itself to the eyes of the beholder. Using
the matched-guise technique (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, &
Fillenbaum, 1960) as an unobtrusive method for examining
person perception, Bond (1985) presented audiotaped English
or Cantonese (the spoken language of Chinese in Hong Kong)
passages to Chinese bilinguals, with associated photos of either
Chinese or British male speakers. Speakers of Cantonese,
regardless of ethnicity, were viewed as humble, honest, and
friendly; British speakers, regardless of language, as competent. Thus, both language and ethnicity effects were observed
for person perception when these two variables, normally
confounded, were disentangled.
Bilingual competence may reduce cross-language differences, as it makes shifts between languages easier. Bilinguals
who are not fluent in their second language may feel inhibited
because of their limited ability to express themselves and
perhaps thereby distort the expression of their personality.
Fluent bilinguals switch languages and communicative behaviors with ease. In Study 2, we recruited fluent bilinguals and
used behavioral observation in addition to self-reports to
assess self-perceived personality and personality as perceived
by others.
Based on the findings of Study 1, Chinese-English bilinguals
perceived Extraversion and Openness to Experience as distinctively Western traits. Additionally, since McCrae et al.
(1998) found that North Americans scored higher on Assertiveness than did Hong Kong Chinese and Canadian-born Chinese,
we focused our investigation on these three Western traits that
could demonstrate the direction of accommodation.
Perception effects. We hypothesized that Hong Kong bilinguals would perceive native speakers of English as higher on
Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness than
native speakers of Chinese.
Language effects. Accordingly, when responding in English,
bilinguals would present traits consistent with their own perceptions of typical English speakers, that is, higher on Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness, than
when responding in Chinese.
Ethnicity effects. The cultural accommodation hypothesis
led us to predict the effects of interlocutor ethnicity derived

Participants. To control for possible gender effects, all interviewers were males, and all interviewees were females. The
sample consisted of 76 female Chinese-English bilinguals
(all of Chinese descent) from the Chinese University of Hong
Kong, with a mean age of 20.34 (SD = 1.49). Participants
were recruited on the basis of their English and Chinese proficiency so that they were competent in both languages. We
selected those whose grades were C or above both in the
Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and in
the Use of English examination of the Advanced Level
Examination, a selection criterion used in Hui and Chengs
(1987) study. Only those scoring above average on both language tests were selected.
Interviewers. Four male interviewers were recruited, two
Caucasians and two Hong Kong Chinese, all fluent in both
English and Cantonese. We screened and interviewed Chinese
and Caucasian candidates not only to evaluate their bilingual
competence but also to ensure that their facial features resemble prototypic Chinese and Anglo-Saxons. Those with Asian
ancestry were excluded as Caucasian interviewers, even if
they were born in the United States with English as their first
language, because their mixed appearance would undercut the
priming of ethnicity.
All interviewers were between 20 and 30 years old, comparable in height and physical attractiveness. The reason for
selecting young interviewers was that Chinese traditions
socialize young people to listen more and speak less in front
of seniors, but participants would feel a lesser need to restrain
their talking in front of young interviewers. The interviewers
and all research assistants were blind to the hypotheses of
this study.
The interviewers were trained to standardize their nonverbal
behaviors, such as their paralinguistics, kinesics, and gazing,
during the interviews. Meetings were held to clarify the interview procedure, and four sets of interview scripts in both
English and Chinese, for a total of eight versions, were developed, so that the interviewers could practice beforehand. We
then conducted practice sessions to allow interviewers to
rehearse with student helpers and to test the equipment used
and the flow of the interview process. Comments and suggestions were given on interviewers pronunciation, intonation,
expressions, and gestures, and so on. They were instructed to
wear white shirts and minimize their verbal and nonverbal
reactions to control for possible experimenter effects across
interviewers.

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(11)

Procedure

Wave 1. Participants were randomly assigned to two


groups. Half completed the English version of the written
measures; half, the Chinese version. They were asked to
assess their own traits, perceived traits of typical Chinese
native speakers, and perceived traits of typical native English
speakers. All participants were instructed to indicate their
age, year and major of study, and length of stay in Englishspeaking countries.
Wave 2. After 2 to 3 weeks, members of the two groups
completed the other language version of the same measures
completed previously. Again, they were asked to assess their
own traits, perceived traits of typical native Chinese speakers,
and perceived traits of typical native English speakers.
Wave 3. Three weeks after completing the second set of
personality inventories, participants were interviewed by
one of the Caucasian interviewers and one of the Chinese
interviewers in English and Cantonese separately, for about
10 min with each interviewer in each language. In other
words, each participant took part in four conditions, that is,
talking with a Caucasian interviewer in English, with a Caucasian interviewer in Cantonese, with a Chinese interviewer
in English, and with a Chinese interviewer in Cantonese.
The order of interview language and interviewer ethnicity
was counterbalanced.
The interviews were recorded by camcorders, with each
condition saved in a separate video file for later review. Thus,
there were four video files for each participant, one for each
condition. At the end of the interview, participants were asked
to answer questions tapping their self-perceived differences
in personality across English and Chinese. After all participants were interviewed, we recruited two Chinese-English
bilingual observers to review the video files separately and
complete a rating sheet independently for each participant
under each condition. To avoid possible interference effects,
the observers were not given all the files at the same rating
session, so that they did not review the same participant in
two or more conditions within one rating session. As the
camera was only focused on the participants, the interviewers
were not filmed and their ethnicity was not revealed to the
observers.

Measures

Language proficiency and usage (Benet-Martnez & Haritatos,


2005). This measure was the same as used in Study 1. In the
present study, the alphas for Chinese and English proficiency
and usage were, respectively, .67 and .71 for the Chinese
version and .77 and .72 for the English version.
Perceived personality. The Sino-American Person Perception
Scale (SAPPS; Yik & Bond, 1993) was adopted to assess the
perceived personality of the self, typical native speakers of
Chinese, and typical native speakers of English. The SAPPS
assesses traits on a 7-point scale, based on the Western Five
Factor Model (Norman, 1963; see also McCrae & Costa, 1985,

1987) and indigenous Chinese adjective checklists (Lew, 1985;


Yang & Bond, 1990). The scale has both Chinese and English
versions consisting of 32 bipolar adjectives on eight orthogonal
dimensions of personality: Emotional Stability, Extraversion,
Application, Openness to Experience, Assertiveness, Restraint,
Helpfulness, and Intellect.
The reason for adopting this scale in Study 2 is that the
SAPPS captures socially relevant traits and has been well
validated as a comprehensive measure of personality perception with Chinese populations (e.g., Chen, Bond, & Fung, 2006).
In addition to the personality dimensions similar to those of
the five-factor model, the SAPPS dimension of Application,
for example, refers to being hard-working, diligent, and practical, and that of Restraint denotes being cautious, dignified,
and thorough. The alphas of the eight factors for each language
and each target are presented in Table 3.
Interview scripts. To standardize interview questions across
the four conditions, four sets of questions were designed in
parallel forms and in both languages, such that each participant
answered comparable but not identical questions across the
four conditions. The content was general information about
the participants, their hobbies, and their social activities. After
a brief introduction to the procedure, the interviewer asked
the participant to talk about sports, movies, songs, and paintings, respectively, for each of the four conditions, and asked
the participant to describe her favorite sport, movie, song, and
painting and why she liked it, as well as her favorite sport star,
movie star, singer, and painter, respectively. In addition to
hobbies, the interviewer also asked the participant to talk about
people around her, such as parents, relatives, friends, and
teachers, and her social activities. We used easy and informal
topics of conversation so that they resembled informal conversations rather than formal interviews.
Observer ratings. To provide a tangible scoring scheme for
observer ratings, the authors selected a representative word
out of four items defining each personality dimension (e.g.,
extraverted, open, and assertive). If a representative word was
difficult to find from the four items, a key word was used to
represent the personality factor (e.g., restrained for the
Restraint factor). The observers independently completed a
rating sheet after they reviewed one video file of a participant
in each of the four conditions. The questions included key
items for the eight personality dimensions as measured by the
SAPPS. They were asked to judge the participants traits from
the video segment (e.g., Did the participant seem extroverted?) and to circle their answers on a 6-point scale, ranging
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Thus, four
sets of ratings were collected for each participant, one set for
each condition.1
Postinterview questions. After the interviews, participants
were asked to rate on a 6-point scale the extent to which they
perceived themselves feeling, thinking, and behaving differently across languages and to which they perceived their
own personality as different, ranging from 0 (no difference),

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Chen and Bond

Table 3. Means, Standard Deviations, and Reliability Coefficients () of Participant Ratings for the Sino-American Person Perception
Scale in Study 2
Perception of native Chinese
speakers

Self-perception
Chinese
Factor
Emotional Stability
Extraversion
Application
Openness
Assertiveness
Restraint
Helpfulness
Intellect

English

Chinese

Perception of native English speakers

English

Chinese

English

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

SD

3.88
4.34
4.54
4.26
4.03
4.43
3.96
4.81

1.00
1.09
1.00
1.11
0.98
1.06
0.93
0.79

.71
.81
.74
.83
.74
.76
.63
.71

3.84
4.34
4.75
4.35
4.15
4.52
4.78
4.60

0.96
1.04
0.87
1.02
1.04
0.87
0.74
0.73

.67
.77
.65
.80
.62
.66
.60
.69

3.95
3.60
5.11
2.84
3.92
4.70
3.70
4.54

0.82
0.81
0.90
0.78
0.83
0.81
0.81
0.81

.61
.66
.68
.75
.68
.69
.64
.67

3.84
3.60
5.11
2.84
3.92
4.70
3.70
4.54

0.94
0.81
0.90
0.78
0.83
0.81
0.81
0.81

.62
.60
.72
.75
.67
.65
.62
.66

5.28
5.73
3.51
5.53
5.22
3.53
4.44
4.51

0.61
0.59
0.71
0.69
0.63
0.71
0.76
0.69

.55
.75
.68
.75
.72
.64
.61
.76

4.58
5.51
3.52
5.50
5.10
3.71
4.71
4.68

0.66
0.72
0.84
0.64
0.72
0.91
0.64
0.79

.40
.74
.70
.78
.52
.52
.55
.72

1 (slightly different), 3 (moderately different), and 5 (very


different).

Results and Discussion


Language proficiency and usage. We evaluated participants
subjective ratings of English proficiency in addition to their
objective exam grades as a manipulation check. On 6-point
scales, the mean of English proficiency was 4.33 (SD = .56)
and that of Chinese proficiency was 5.21 (SD = .61), indicating
high English and Chinese proficiency as perceived by the
participants themselves.
Ratings by participants. Table 3 presents means and standard
deviations of participant ratings on the eight personality dimensions in Chinese and English. Using similar analytic strategies
as in Study 1 to test for language effects and perception effects
on the personality factors as hypothesized, we conducted eight
sets of 2 3 repeated measures ANOVA. The dependent
variables were the eight personality dimensions of the SAPPS.
The within-subjects factors were language (English and
Chinese) and target of perception (self-perception, perception
of native Chinese speakers, and perception of native English
speakers). Instead of presenting an exhaustive report on all
eight dimensions, we explicate the results of three factors
(Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness)
for the purpose of our hypotheses, and then summarize those
of all eight dimensions (see Table 4).
For Extraversion, the target main effect was significant,
F(2, 68) = 138.16, p < .001, as well as the Language Target
interaction effect, F(2, 68) = 4.47, p < .05. The univariate test
associated with the language main effect was marginally significant, F(1, 69) = 3.89, p = .053. Using Holms sequential
Bonferroni approach, interaction comparisons showed that
the mean differences in personality ratings across English and
Chinese were significantly different between perceived native
speakers of English and Chinese, p < .01, and between selfperception and perceived native speakers of English, p < .025.

Table 4. ANOVA for Participant Ratings in Study 2


Source
Emotional Stability
Target
Language
Target Language
Extraversion
Target
Language
Target Language
Application
Target
Language
Target Language
Openness
Target
Language
Target Language
Assertiveness
Target
Language
Target Language
Restraint
Target
Language
Target Language
Helpfulness
Target
Language
Target Language
Intellect
Target
Language
Target Language

df

p2

2
1
2

41.23
45.16
23.83

< .001
< .001
< .001

.55
.40
.41

2
1
2

138.16
3.89
4.47

< .001
.053
< .001

.80
.05
.12

2
1
2

65.57
3.81
4.01

< .001
.055
< .05

.66
.05
.11

2
1
2

185.85
0.33
0.56

< .001
> .05
> .05

.85
.01
.02

2
1
2

55.78
0.00
2.03

< .001
> .05
> .05

.62
.00
.06

2
1
2

43.39
4.02
2.10

< .001
< .05
> .05

.56
.06
.06

2
1
2

23.94
69.49
39.06

< .001
< .001
< .001

.41
.50
.54

2
1
2

1.11
0.15
5.62

> .05
> .05
< .001

.03
.00
.54

Across languages, participants perceived native speakers of


English as more extraverted than native speakers of Chinese,
whereas self-ratings were significantly higher than those of

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(11)

Chinese speakers but much lower than those of English speakers, ps < .001. This effect was slightly stronger when measured
in Chinese than in English.
For Openness to Experience, only the target main effect
was significant, F(2, 68) = 185.85, p < .001; neither the
Language Target interaction effect nor the language main
effect was significant, F(2, 68) = .56, p > .05, and F(1, 69) =
.33, p > .05, respectively. Simple main effect analyses indicated that across languages, participants perceived native
speakers of English as significantly more open than native
speakers of Chinese, p < .001, with the difference between
languages nonsignificant, p > .05; self-ratings were significantly higher than those perceived for Chinese speakers but
lower than those perceived for English speakers, ps < .001.
For Assertiveness, only the target main effect was significant, F(2, 68) = 55.78, p < .001; neither the Language Target
interaction effect nor the language main effect was significant,
F(2, 68) = 2.03, p > .05, and F(1, 69) = .00, p > .05, respectively. Simple main effect analyses indicated that across languages, participants perceived native speakers of English as
significantly more assertive than native speakers of Chinese,
p < .001, with the difference between languages nonsignificant,
p > .05; self-ratings were significantly lower than those for perceived English speakers, p < .001, but not different from those
for perceived Chinese speakers, p > .05.
To summarize participants ratings, target of perception
effects were significant for seven out of eight personality
factors (except for Intellect), ps < .001, whereas language
effects were present only on Emotional Stability, Restraint,
and Helpfulness, ps < .05. Native speakers of English were
perceived to be more emotionally stable, extraverted, open,
assertive, and helpful, but less restrained and lower on
application than were native speakers of Chinese. Participants rated themselves in between English speakers and
Chinese speakers on these personality dimensions, except
for Helpfulness, but closer to Chinese speakers than English
speakers. In Chinese, they scored higher on Emotional Stability and lower on Restraint than in English. Their selfratings of Helpfulness were differentiated by language; that
is, participants perceived themselves as not significantly
different from English speakers when responding in English
but closer to Chinese speakers when responding in Chinese.
Native speakers of English and Chinese were not perceived
to be different in Intellect, whereas participants viewed
themselves to be higher on Intellect than both groups when
responding in Chinese, but not different when responding
in English.
Ratings by observers. Likewise, to test language effects and
ethnicity effects on the personality factors rated by observers
for each condition, we conducted eight sets of 2 2 repeated
measures ANOVAs. For the purpose of our hypotheses, we
explicate the results for three factors (Extraversion, Openness
to Experience, and Assertiveness) in the text and Figure 1,
and then summarize those of all eight factors (see Table 5 for

means and standard deviations and Table 6 for the ANOVA


results).
For Extraversion, the ethnicity main effect and the
Language Ethnicity interaction effect were significant,
Fs(1, 71) = 34.53 and 20.61, respectively, ps < .001, whereas
the language main effect was not, F(1, 71) = 2.79, p > .05.
Participants were rated as significantly more extraverted
when talking with Caucasian interviewers than with Chinese
interviewers, p < .001, without a significant difference
between Cantonese and English, p > .05. When talking with
Chinese interviewers, participants were perceived to be significantly more extraverted when speaking in English than
in Cantonese, p < .001.
For Openness to Experience, the language and ethnicity
main effects as well as the Language Ethnicity interaction
effect were all significant, Fs(1, 71) = 6.34, 18.57, and 19.20,
respectively, ps < .05. Participants were rated as significantly
more open when talking with Caucasian interviewers than
with Chinese interviewers, p < .001, without a significant
difference between Cantonese and English, p > .05. When
talking with Chinese interviewers, participants were perceived
to be significantly more open when speaking in English than
in Cantonese, p < .001.
For assertiveness, the language and ethnicity main effects
as well as the Language Ethnicity interaction effect were
all significant, Fs(1, 71) = 7.03, 40.23, and 13.14, respectively,
ps < .05. Participants were rated as significantly more assertive
when talking with Caucasian interviewers than with Chinese
interviewers, p < .001, without a significant difference between
Cantonese and English, p > .05. When talking with Chinese
interviewers, participants were perceived to be significantly
more assertive when speaking in English than in Cantonese,
p < .001.
To summarize the results from observers ratings, participants were perceived to be more extraverted, open, assertive,
helpful, and higher on application and intellect when talking
with Caucasian interviewers than with Chinese interviewers,
ps < .05. When talking with Chinese interviewers, participants
were rated as more extraverted, open, assertive, helpful, and
higher on application and intellect when talking in English
than in Cantonese, ps < .05. Such differences were not significant on emotional stability. When conversing in English,
participants were perceived to be more restrained with Chinese
interviewers than with Caucasian interviewers, but showed
no significant difference when conversing in Cantonese.
Overall personality differences. Having tested the effects of
an interpersonal variable (interlocutor ethnicity) and a contextual variable (language use), we conducted multiple regression analysis to predict the overall personality differences
from intrapersonal variables. In Block 1, we entered version
of questionnaire at Time 1 and Time 2, age, major, overseas
stay (dichotomous), and length of overseas stay to control for
the possible effects of these demographics. In Block 2, we
entered English and Chinese language proficiency and usage,

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Chen and Bond

Mean Ratings of Observers

4.08

4.12

4
3.87

3.67

3.65

3.60

3.58

3.54

3.47
3.41

3.21
3.08
3
Extraversion

Openness

Assertiveness

Conversing with Caucasian interviewers in English

Conversing with Caucasian interviewers in Cantonese

Conversing with Chinese interviewers in English

Conversing with Chinese interviewers in Cantonese

Figure 1. Observer ratings of bilinguals Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness when conversing with Chinese and
Caucasian interviewers in Cantonese and English

Table 5. Means and Standard Deviations (in Parentheses) of Observer Ratings Under the Four Conditions in Study 2

Factor
Emotional Stability
Extraversion
Application
Openness
Assertiveness
Restraint
Helpfulness
Intellect

With Caucasian
interviewers
in English
2.65
3.54
4.06
3.60
4.08
3.03
4.10
3.85

(0.59)
(0.63)
(0.51)
(0.60)
(0.69)
(0.66)
(0.46)
(0.55)

With Caucasian
interviewers
in Cantonese
2.63
3.65
4.09
3.67
4.12
3.04
4.01
3.96

to examine the effects of language ability. Block 3 included


cross-language differences in feeling, thinking, and behavior,
and perceived influence of overseas experiences on language
use and on personality, to identify significant predictors.
The regression model accounted for 39.2% of the total variance in overall personality differences, R2 = .39, F(13, 65),

(0.63)
(0.77)
(0.48)
(0.59)
(0.54)
(0.90)
(0.42)
(0.49)

With Chinese
interviewers
in English
2.74
3.41
4.05
3.58
3.87
3.29
4.06
3.72

(0.61)
(0.70)
(0.42)
(0.64)
(0.74)
(0.70)
(0.42)
(0.57)

With Chinese
interviewers
in Cantonese
2.60
3.08
3.59
3.21
3.47
2.94
3.42
3.28

(0.69)
(0.91)
(0.53)
(0.72)
(0.82)
(0.83)
(0.61)
(0.68)

p < .01 (see Table 7). None of the demographic variables was
significant, ps > .05. Nor were the effects of language proficiency and usage significant, ps > .05, perhaps because this
sample of participants perceived themselves as high on English
proficiency and hence showed less variability on this factor.
Among the predictors, only cross-language difference in

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(11)

Table 6. ANOVA for Observer Ratings in Study 2


Source
Emotional Stability
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Extraversion
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Application
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Openness
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Assertiveness
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Restraint
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Helpfulness
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity
Intellect
Language
Ethnicity
Language Ethnicity

df

p2

1
1
1

2.42
0.45
2.40

> .05
> .05
> .05

.03
.01
.03

1
1
1

2.79
34.53
20.61

> .05
< .001
< .001

.04
.33
.23

1
1
1

19.38
36.75
33.82

< .001
< .001
< .001

.21
.34
.32

1
1
1

6.34
18.57
19.20

< .05
< .05
< .05

.08
.21
.21

1
1
1

7.03
40.23
13.14

< .05
< .05
< .05

.09
.36
.16

1
1
1

4.52
1.56
9.58

< .05
> .05
< .05

.06
.02
.12

1
1
1

44.22
55.18
30.99

< .001
< .001
< .001

.38
.44
.30

1
1
1

9.33
88.30
38.39

< .01
< .01
< .01

.12
.55
.35

thinking was significant, p < .05, and positively related to


overall personality differences, but overseas experience and
differences in feeling and behavior did not make significant
contributions, ps > .05.

General Discussion
The present research attempted to address the question of
whether personality changes as a function of language use,
an issue that has both theoretical importance (e.g., what is
being evoked by language priming?) and applied significance
(e.g., do bilinguals have two personalities?). Language effects
have been studied more frequently on values and self-concept
(e.g., Earl, 1969; Ross, Xun, & Wilson, 2002; Trafimow,
Silverman, Fan, & Law, 1997) but relatively infrequently with
personality inventories. Findings from those few studies that
examined language effects on bilinguals personality and from
cultural priming studies that used language as a prime have
been equivocal. To fill in this gap, we adopted different methods to test the cultural accommodation hypothesis.

Table 7. Hierarchical Regression Model for Overall Personality


Differences Across Languages in Study 2

Variable
Language version (Time 1)
Language version (Time 2)
Age
Major
Overseas experience
Length of overseas stay
English proficiency and usage
Chinese proficiency and usage
Cross-language differences in
feeling
Cross-language differences in
thinking
Cross-language differences in
behavior
Perceived influence of overseas
experience on language use
Perceived influence of overseas
experience on personality
R2
R2
F change
df

Block 1

Block 2

Block 3

.36
.29
.07
-.10
.09
.26

.35
.26
.07
-.11
.08
.27
-.12
-.03

.14
.10
-.00
-.03
-.06
.02
-.04
-.01
.00
.32*
.22
-.29
.36

.11
.11
1.46
6/72

.13
.02
0.66
2/70

.39
.27
5.65***
5/65

*p < .05. ***p < .001.

Target of Perception Effects


On the key variables, bilinguals ratings were consistent in
Studies 1 and 2 with respect to the perception of culture-related
norms for personality traits. Bilinguals perceived native speakers of English as higher on typical Western traits, such as
Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Assertiveness, but
lower on the typical Eastern trait of Restraint, than did native
speakers of Chinese. These perceptions are aligned with the
cultural norms for individualism and collectivism (Chen,
Bond, Chan, Tang, & Buchtel, 2009). As native speakers of
English are mostly from individualistic cultures and native
speakers of Chinese mostly from collectivist cultures, they
are perceived to embody the characteristics stereotypic of
their cultural groups and are more socially appropriate in
their respective cultures. These expected dispositions help
bilinguals interact with cultural others when they do not have
prior, personally developed information about their interaction partners.
Understandably, bilinguals positioned themselves between
native speakers of English and Chinese but closer to the
Chinese group than the English group. The colonial history
of Hong Kong has influenced its residents with Western institutions, for example, political structure, educational system,
exposure to English, entertainment industry, and communication styles, in their everyday living (Chen et al., 2008).

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University students in Hong Kong are an elite group more
exposed to Western influences. Consequently, they characterize themselves as deviating from typical Chinese speakers
toward typical English speakers, but the extent of such deviations is only moderate and not to the extent of identifying
themselves more with the English group.
Other than the key variables, participant ratings of helpfulness were different in Study 2. If we predicted that native
speakers of Chinese were perceived to be higher on typical
Eastern traits such as Agreeableness, as in Study 1, they should
also be higher on a prosocial trait like Helpfulness, but this
pattern was not supported in the two studies. Instead, native
speakers of English were perceived as more agreeable than
native speakers of Chinese, although participants perceived
themselves as more agreeable than typical members of both
groups. These perceptions may stem from bilinguals social
interactions with native speakers of English in Hong Kong,
especially in school settings where the Caucasians whom they
encountered tend to be warm and supportive. In fact, these
results underscore the importance of assessing bilinguals own
perceptions about cultural others (perceived norms), as identified in Study 1, instead of the actual characteristics of these
other groups (actual norms).
The results on helpfulness converge with earlier findings
showing that Hong Kong Chinese scored lower on the Altruism facet of the Agreeableness dimension (McCrae, Costa, &
Yik, 1996; McCrae et al., 1998). Based on their study of
European and Chinese Canadians, McCrae et al. (1998) suggested that exposure to Western culture increased openness,
cheerfulness, and prosocial behavior and attitudes. In the present study, bilinguals shifted their responses on helpfulness as
a function of language. In English, they perceived themselves
as closer to native speakers of English, but in Chinese as closer
to the Chinese group. In this case we observe cultural accommodation, an assimilation effect.

Language Effects
Compared to perception effects, language exerted less influence on self-ratings, and cross-language differences were
rather small in magnitude but greater for observer ratings
than for self-ratings in Study 2. Self-reports tap into targets
intrapersonal evaluation of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors,
but some personality traits only present themselves under
certain circumstances (Funder, 2003). Behavioral observations take into account interpersonal dispositions and situational factors, probably magnifying the expression of
personality. Furthermore, observers did not have to perform
and respond to interactive situations, so that they had more
mental resources to attend to characteristic patterns of their
targets behaviors.
Based on observer ratings, language effects were qualified
by the significant interactions between spoken language and
interlocutor ethnicity. When conversing with Chinese

interviewers, participants were perceived as more extraverted,


open, and assertive in English than in Chinese. These judgederived personality profiles match bilinguals self-derived
profiles, supporting our contention that cross-language differences in personality arise from bilinguals perception of
prototypic personality in the corresponding culture. When
conversing with Caucasian interviewers, participants were
perceived as more extraverted, open, and assertive than when
conversing with Chinese interviewers. The differences
between the two languages were not significant with Caucasian interviewers, indicating that the presence of a native
English speaker was strong enough to prime these Western
traits and elicit accommodating patterns, regardless of the
language used.

Ethnicity Effects
Observer ratings confirmed ethnicity effects, except for intellect. These patterns were similar to their response propensities
in English, be it self-reports or observer ratings, with both
effects demonstrating cultural accommodation. Using English
and interacting with native speakers of English engage consistent cultural norms as perceived by bilinguals, and accordingly they responded in similar ways. These findings reveal
the underlying mechanism of bilingual personality, that is, the
expectations and goals of making culturally congruent
responses, elicited by the language or the interaction partner,
motivate bilinguals to realize their perception of cultural
norms. As pointed out by Holmes (2002), the influences of social
situations and interpersonal expectations determine interaction
behaviors.
The interaction between ethnicity and language on restraint
reflects a comfort effect. When communicating with native
speakers of Chinese, bilinguals were perceived as more
restrained in English than in Chinese but showed no significant
difference between languages with native speakers of English.
Perhaps speaking a second language with an interlocutor from
ones own culture is an unnatural situation, prompting bilinguals to act with restraint. Because of social comparison,
participants might feel inadequate and less competent in front
of the Chinese interviewers with better perceived English
proficiency, thereby impeding the spontaneous expression of
their interpersonal dispositions. Thus, they appeared more
restrained compared to their communications in their first
language.

Overall Personality Differences


The regression results shed some light on what intrapersonal
factors predicted cross-language differences in personality.
Among other things, bilinguals believed that cognitive differences activated across languages made a significant
contribution to this process. From the perspective of communication accommodation theory, the cognitive function

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(11)

can explain convergent as well as divergent behaviors in the


communication process (e.g., Gallois et al., 2005; Giles & Ogay,
2006; Giles, Scherer, & Taylor, 1979). For example, when the
speakers goal is to facilitate comprehension, he or she may
accommodate to the recipients speech characteristics. It also
supports Holmess (2002) emphasis on interpersonal goals and
expectations, which are cognitive elements that combine with
influences of social situations to bring out behavioral outcomes.
It is bilinguals cognitive organization of languages, perceptions,
expectations, and goals that leads to the expression of traits
during social interactions across languages.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests


The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the authorship and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for
the research and/or authorship of this article: the Direct Grant
(#2020905) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the General
Research Fund (PolyU 5412/08H) by the Research Grants Council,
Hong Kong.

Note

Conclusion and Future Directions


To conclude, the present findings demonstrate that crosslanguage differences exist on some personality dimensions as
perceived by both targets and observers. After controlling for
cultural background (by using compound bilinguals), social
role, gender, age, and fluency, language effects on personality
shift become relatively weak in magnitude. An important
mechanism underlying such shifts is cultural accommodation.
When bilinguals interacted with interlocutors from different
cultures, they showed characteristics corresponding to their
perceptions of normative personality in those cultures. Language (written or spoken) and its associated feature (native
speakers of the language) present cultural cues to activate
expectations and goals of making culturally congruent
responses, and motivate bilinguals to realize their perceptions
of cultural norms.
In closing, we do not claim that language per se does not
matter in bilingual personality, a question that could not be
directly answered by our study. Language proficiency and
cultural frames associated with language use may affect crosslanguage differences in personality directly. Further studies
can adopt processing measures as a means to assess language
proficiency and language dominance, for example, using reaction time on a verbal categorization task as a performance
measure of proficiency. Future research can also examine
other compound bilinguals within the same cultural set, such
as Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in Barcelona, Spain, or DutchFrisian bilinguals in the North of the Netherlands, to test the
cultural accommodation hypothesis. The important question
is not only whether language really matters but also when and
how it matters.
Acknowledgments
We would like to express our appreciation to Catherine A. McBride,
Helene H. L. Fung, Cecilia Cheng, and Daphna Oyserman for their
insightful comments on earlier versions of this article, and to Wai
Chan, Chin-Ming Hui, and Ben C. P. Lam for their helpful advice
on the statistical analyses. Thanks also go to Wesley C. H. Wu, Brian
Willis, Stefan White, Tony T. H. Cheng, Nelson C. Y. Yeung, Angus
M. Y. Lok, Queenie K. Y. Lai, and Anita W. Y. Cheung for their
assistance in data collecting, interviewing, and coding.

1. Mean interobserver agreements were .16 and .14 for conversing with Chinese native speakers in Cantonese and English,
respectively, and .13 and .09 for conversing with English native
speakers in Cantonese and English, respectively. These correlations were lower than the mean interobserver agreement of
.22-.25 found in previous studies on trait ratings (John & Robins,
1993), perhaps because some traits measured in the present
study were less observable. Unlike coding specific acts and
behaviors, levels of observer agreement are usually lower for
judgments of general personality traits, as internal experiences
and processes are less available to observers (Gosling, John,
Craik, & Robins, 1998). Using two observers is another limitation of our study; more judges could provide useful information
on the person perception process.

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