Language and Rationality

Thinking in a different language may lead to more rational decisions:

Keysar’s team recruited 54 University of Chicago students who spoke Spanish as a second language. Each received $15 in $1 bills, each of which could be kept or bet on a coin toss. If they lost a toss, they’d lose the dollar, but winning returned the dollar and another $1.50 — a proposition that, over multiple bets, would likely be profitable.

When the proceedings were conducted in English, just 54 percent of students took the bets, a number that rose to 71 percent when betting in Spanish. “They take more bets in a foreign language because they expect to gain in the long run, and are less affected by the typically exaggerated aversion to losses,” wrote Keysar and colleagues.

The researchers believe a second language provides a useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction.

 

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