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    Cognition and Emotion

    ISSN: 0269-9931 (Print) 1464-0600 (Online) Journal homepage:

    Playing with fire: effects of negative moodinduction and working memory on vocabularyacquisition

    Zachary F. Miller, Jessica K. Fox, Jason S. Moser & Aline Godfroid

    To cite this article: Zachary F. Miller, Jessica K. Fox, Jason S. Moser & Aline Godfroid (2017):Playing with fire: effects of negative mood induction and working memory on vocabulary acquisition,Cognition and Emotion, DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2017.1362374

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    Published online: 03 Aug 2017.

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    Playing with fire: effects of negative mood induction and workingmemory on vocabulary acquisitionZachary F. Millera, Jessica K. Foxb, Jason S. Moserc and Aline Godfroidb

    aDepartment of Foreign Languages, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, West Point, NY, USA; bSecond Language StudiesProgram, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA; cDepartment of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing,MI, USA

    ABSTRACTWe investigated the impact of emotions on learning vocabulary in an unfamiliarlanguage to better understand affective influences in foreign language acquisition.Seventy native English speakers learned new vocabulary in either a negative or aneutral emotional state. Participants also completed two sets of working memorytasks to examine the potential mediating role of working memory. Results revealedthat participants exposed to negative stimuli exhibited difficulty in retrieving andcorrectly pairing English words with Indonesian words, as reflected in a lowerperformance on the prompted recall tests and the free recall measure. Emotionalinduction did not change working memory scores from pre to post manipulation.This suggests working memory could not explain the reduced vocabulary learningin the negative group. We argue that negative mood can adversely affect languagelearning by suppressing aspects of native-language processing and impeding form-meaning mapping with second language words.

    ARTICLE HISTORYReceived 8 December 2016Revised 17 June 2017Accepted 14 July 2017

    KEYWORDSHot cognition; vocabulary;working memory; emotions;second language acquisition

    Researchers in psychology and cognitive science haveexplored the role of hot cognition, or cognitive proces-sing influenced by emotions, on adult learning(Pekrun, 2006) and working memory (WM) (Gray,2004; Storbeck, Davidson, Dahl, Blass, & Yung, 2015).Similar inquiries into adult second language (L2) learn-ing, however, are lacking, despite an increasing call formore research in this area (Swain, 2013). With thepresent study, we attempt to fill this gap in the litera-ture by investigating how affective states influencelexical acquisition, a key component of L2 learning,under explicit learning conditions.

    Hot cognition, learning, and adult languageacquisition

    The term hot cognition refers to the union of cognitionand emotion. Very often, mental actions involved inlearning, decision-making, and evaluating informationare processed through an affective filter. Recent

    empirical research has highlighted the symbioticrelationship between emotions and learning in aca-demic environments. It is assumed that positiveemotions facilitate creative learning strategies,whereas negative emotions cause cognitive deactiva-tion (Pekrun, 2006; Pekrun, Goetz, Titz, & Perry, 2002).Conversely, Pekrun et al. (2002) recognised thatcertain positive emotions could be detrimental,while negative emotions, such as anxiety and shame,might stimulate cognitive activity. Pessoa (2009)expanded these ideas by proposing the dual compe-tition framework, where emotional and executivesystems mutually interact during cognitive processing.He posited that high-arousal affect, either positive ornegative, generally impaired cognitive task perform-ance. Low-arousal stimuli, on the other hand, couldbe actively suppressed or even could enhance behav-ioural performance if task relevant.

    The significance of hot cognition on adult languagelearning has been recognised for several decades.

    2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

    CONTACT Zachary F. Miller zachary.miller@usma.eduSupplemental data for this article can be accessed here doi:10.1080/02699931.2017.1362374.





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  • Schumann (1994) noted that if one decides to analyzeperception, attention, or memory mechanisms in SLA[second language acquisition] independently of affec-tive mechanisms, one is making a large simplifyingassumption (p. 240). That said, the bulk of researchon the interface of emotions and adult language learn-ing generally falls into one of four camps: (a) themental representation of emotional vocabulary inbilinguals; (b) taboo word sensitivity in participantsfirst language versus other languages; (c) pedagogicalconsiderations of teaching emotionally-laden L2materials; and (d) foreign language anxiety. Furtherinquiry into specialised areas of SLA, however, is war-ranted. In this study, we focus on L2 vocabulary learn-ing, which is one of the cornerstones of learning a newlanguage. Vocabulary size has a moderately strongcorrelation with L2 users speaking, listening,reading, and writing abilities (Alderson, 2005). Further-more, the task we use, which is known as paired-associates learning, has stood the test of time as a pre-dictor of foreign language learning success. It featuresin a variety of both historic assessments (e.g. ModernLanguage Aptitude Test; see Carroll & Sapon, 1959)and contemporary tests of foreign language aptitude(e.g. High-Level Language Aptitude Battery; see Lincket al., 2013) and therefore offers an indication ofhow well L2 learners may perform on otherlanguage-related tasks.

    WM capacity and adult language learning

    WM can be defined as a multicomponent systemresponsible for active maintenance of information inthe face of ongoing processing and/or distraction(Conway et al., 2005, p. 770). A key individual-differ-ences variable (Conway et al., 2005), WM capacity(WMC) is generally regarded as a stable predictor ofoutcome performance in cognitive tasks. Individualswith greater WMC are usually better at multitasking,following directions, and comprehending languages(Engle, 2010; Gathercole, 2006). The notion of astrong relationship between WM and L2 acquisitionis not new within the SLA community. Usage-basedresearchers believe WM facilitates linguistic chunking(Ellis, 1996), an inductive learning process that facili-tates the acquisition of vocabulary and morphosyntax.Cowan (2015) also surmised that L2 usage likely stres-ses various WM storage buffers because of theinterpretation, coordination, and storage of variousinformation sources, such as spatial or visual contextsand phonological input. This is particularly relevant to

    learning under explicit conditions, as WM may play agreater role when consciousness and attention areinvolved (see Linck & Weiss, 2011).

    Complex WM span tasks provide a way of measur-ing WMC (Conway et al., 2005; Storbeck & Maswood,2016). In their study, Unsworth and Spillers (2010)tested participants on separate attention control andsecondary (longer-term) memory tasks, as well as avariety of WM span tasks, including the operation,symmetry, and reading span tasks. Results from struc-tural equation modelling revealed WMC to be a jointfunction of both secondary memory abilities andattention control. Moreover, the aforementioned WMspan tasks have provided a partial window intolanguage processing ability, with reading span tasksbeing most strongly related with adult L2 learning(see Linck, Osthus, Koeth, & Bunting, 2014; Wen,2012). Another WM test directly linked with languagelearning is the non-word repetition task. The ability torepeat non-words or pseudo-words with consistentaccuracy is closely and specifically related to vocabu-lary acquisition (Bolibaugh & Foster, 2013; Gathercole,2006; Wen, 2012). Gathercole (2006) posited a stronglink between the ability to repeat non-words and theacquisition of phonological forms of new lexicalitems. She