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

Boaz Keysar*, Sayuri Lynn Hayakawa, Sun Gyu An

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)661-668
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Volume23
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2012

Keywords

  • bilingualism
  • decision making
  • emotions
  • foreign-language learning
  • language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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