Think in a Foreign Language to Make Better Decisions


Think in a Foreign Language to Make Better Decisions

 APR 25, 2012

Think in a Foreign Language to Make Better Decisions

Everyone makes at least a couple risky decisions a day. It might be as complex as an expensive purchase, or as simple as picking between a Hot Pocket and a salad for lunch. Either way, you have a decision making bias based on years of experience that’s going to make you more likely to take a bad risk. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests one way to decrease that risk is to think through the decision in another language.

Researchers conducted several studies with students to test their decision making biases. In each test a subset of students had to think about decisions ranging from how much money to bet away to how to rationally fight a disease. The researchers found that when you think through a decision in a foreign language you can reduce the framing effect that alters your bias. Thinking in a foreign language also increases the likelihood of taking a low-loss, high-gain bet because it alters your perception of loss and lets you see a bigger picture.

In the end, the researchers believe that thinking in a second language provides a kind of cognitive distance that promotes analytical thought and reduces emotion. It operates like a screen door in your decision making, giving you enough time to pause and consider deeper ramifications and remove emotional reaction from a choice. We know that ignoring your prejudices helps you make better decisions and provided you can speak at least one foreign language (and if not here are a few suggestions for learning a language) this could prove to be an important facet of your decision making toolkit.

The Foreign-Language Effect | Psychological Science

The Foreign-Language Effect
(Original article here)

Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases
Boaz Keysar,
Sayuri L. Hayakawa and
Sun Gyu An
Author Affiliation
The University of Chicago
Boaz Keysar, University of Chicago—Psychology, 5848 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637 E-mail:


Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language as you would in your native tongue? 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. Four experiments show that the framing effect disappears when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. Whereas people were risk averse for gains and risk seeking for losses when choices were presented in their native tongue, they were not influenced by this framing manipulation in a foreign language. Two additional experiments show that using a foreign language reduces loss aversion, increasing the acceptance of both hypothetical and real bets with positive expected value. We propose that these effects arise because a foreign language provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does.


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