Newswise — If you are a Mandarin-speaker from China and want to understand how someone else is feeling, you are likely to concentrate on their voice rather than on their face. The opposite is true for English-language speakers in North America, who tend to “read” the emotions of others in their facial expressions rather than in their tone of voice. These cultural/linguistic differences run so deep that they are to be found not only in terms of behaviour, but even at the level of brain activity, according to a study recently published by McGill researchers in Neuropsychologia.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion by using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity as they asked the participants (20 Mandarin-speakers and 19 English- speakers, all of whom were based in Montreal) to identify the emotions being expressed in a series of vocal and visual cues. The researchers believe that the Mandarin-speakers’ greater reliance on tone of voice than on facial cues to understand emotion compared to English-language speakers may be a result of the limited eye contact and more restrained facial expressions common in East Asian cultures.

To read the full paper in Neuropsychologia: