According to recent studies, we assess risks better when we think in a foreign language. A group of psychologists led by Boaz Keysar at the University of Chicago asked:
“Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language as you would in your native tongue?” (study published on 18 April 2012 in Psychological Science).
Keysar’s team wrote:
“It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered,however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases.”
A series of experiments done with more than 300 people from the US and Korea showed that “deep-seated, misleading biases” that affect perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of risk-taking were reduced by thinking in a foreign language. For a description of this study, see Brandom Keim’s blog.
The researchers concluded that another language provides a “useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction.” “Given that more and more people use a foreign language on a daily basis, our discovery could have far-reaching implications,” they wrote, suggesting that people who speak a second language might use it when considering financial decisions. “Over a long time horizon, this might very well be beneficial.”