Thinking in a Foreign Language Helps People Arrive on Better Decisions, Experts Say

By Monica Wilson on April 27, 2012

After conducting a series of experiments, researchers from the University of Chicago found out that people who speak two languages are likely to make more sensible decisions when thinking in their non-native tongue.

Most people believe that when making decisions, it doesn’t matter which language you’re using. But a group of researchers think it’s the opposite. Their notion was – when individuals think in a foreign language, they exert more effort, which makes them more analytical and less emotional. To support their theory, they conducted several experiments.

The Experiments

For the first experiment, they adopted the famous mind test which was used by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who was known for his works on behavioural economics, decision-making, and hedonic psychology. In the current study, 121 American volunteers who speak Japanese were asked to decide given a certain situation. They had to make a choice between saving a few lives and saving more lives using a riskier method. When framed in English, almost 80% of the participants chose the cure that will surely save the victims’ lives. When the question was framed in terms of losing lives, the figure dropped to 40%. But when the same question was posed in the Japanese language, the safer option was chosen by 40% of the respondents regardless of how it was phrased.

The theory was backed by more experiments which showed similar results. The researchers also looked at their theory on another way through an experiment which focuses on gains instead of losses. Here, a group of Koreans who speak English as their second language were asked to decide on making bets with potential gains and minor losses. When asked in their native language, participants accepted the bets in 57% of the trials. But when they were asked in English, they made bets in 67% of them. Such results indicate that they found the bets much more rational when thought in a foreign language.

Said experiments suggest that being well-versed in another language other than a person’s native tongue can help better their decision-making skills.


Source of this article:

The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases, Psychological Science


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