Using a foreign language changes medical judgments of preventative care

Sayuri Hayakawa*, Yue Pan, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Every day, multilinguals around the world make important healthcare decisions while using a foreign language. The present study examined how the use of a native vs. non-native language shapes evaluations and decisions about preventative care. Bilinguals were randomly as-signed to evaluate a series of medical scenarios in either their native or non-native language. Each scenario described potential adverse effects of a medical condition and a preventative treatment, as well as the population risk of disease-or treatment-related complications. Participants judged the perceived negativity and likelihood of experiencing adverse effects and indicated how willing they would be to accept the preventative treatment. We found that bilinguals using a foreign language perceived disease symptoms and treatment side effects to be less negative than those using their native tongue. Foreign language users were also more likely to account for the objective risks associated with medical conditions and treatments when making decisions about preventative care. We conclude that the use of a native vs. foreign language changes how people evaluate the consequences of accepting and declining preventative treatment, with potential implications for millions of providers and patients who routinely make medical choices in their non-native tongue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1309
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Bilingualism
  • Foreign language
  • Medical judgment
  • Preventative healthcare
  • Risk perception
  • Scope insensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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