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Foreign Language Decision Making

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    Posted: Apr/26/2012 at 8:24am
Thinking in a Foreign Language Leads to Better Decisions: Study

According to the study's co-author, Sayuri Hayakawa, this is in large part because people can't disassociate their native tongues from their emotions, which confuses logical thinking. On the contrary, the lack of emotional connection with a foreign language allows for a more rational thought process.

"An emotional reaction could lead to decisions that are motivated more by fear than by hope, even when the odds are highly favorable," said Hayakawa, a University of Chicago graduate student.

In one experiment, the team tested University of Chicago students who were native English speakers and had gained Spanish proficiency through college courses. From previous research, Hayakawa and co-author Sun Gyu An knew that people are naturally risk-averse, often forgoing numerous opportunities despite how advantageous they could end up being. Through this study, they discovered this characteristic was drastically reduced when decision making was done in Spanish.

For example, one of the tests done involved risk-taking in a coin toss. Participants received $15, of which they could contribute $1 to a coin toss bet. If they won the bet, they received $1.50; if they lost the coin toss, they'd lose the original $1. Statistically, if the participants risked all 15 bets, they would gain money because of the 50/50 chance of the coin toss itself.

Despite this statistic rationality, when the students were challenged in English, they accepted the bet 54 percent of the time. When challenged in Spanish, they accepted the bet 71 percent of the time.

Ultimately, they concluded, as more countries and people across the world start to participate in a global economy and, consequentially, begin to learn foreign languages, more rational and favorable (read: risky) decisions will be made.

"People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language might be less biased in their savings, investment and retirement decisions, as they show less myopic loss aversion," the authors wrote. "Over a long time horizon, this might very well be beneficial."

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