Thinking More or Feeling Less? Explaining the Foreign-Language Effect on Moral Judgment

Sayuri Lynn Hayakawa*, David Tannenbaum, Albert Costa, Joanna D. Corey, Boaz Keysar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Would you kill one person to save five? People are more willing to accept such utilitarian action when using a foreign language than when using their native language. In six experiments, we investigated why foreign-language use affects moral choice in this way. On the one hand, the difficulty of using a foreign language might slow people down and increase deliberation, amplifying utilitarian considerations of maximizing welfare. On the other hand, use of a foreign language might stunt emotional processing, attenuating considerations of deontological rules, such as the prohibition against killing. Using a process-dissociation technique, we found that foreign-language use decreases deontological responding but does not increase utilitarian responding. This suggests that using a foreign language affects moral choice not through increased deliberation but by blunting emotional reactions associated with the violation of deontological rules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1387-1397
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • dual process
  • foreign language
  • moral judgment
  • open data
  • open materials
  • process dissociation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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