Decisions are more rational when we think in another (foreign) language

Decisions are more rational when we think in another (foreign) language

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.”

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