How Knowing a Foreign Language Helps Make Better Decisions

University of Chicago researchers have found that words in our native tongue carry more emotional impact than words in a second language, influencing how we make important decisions. 

What's the Latest Development?


University of Chicago researchers recently tested a common psychological phenomenon, in which people deviate from rational behavior because of an emotional pull, on people who spoke a second language. They found that because words in a second language, when learned later in life, do not carry the same emotional impact as the words of one's native tongue, individuals made more rational decisions when using their second language. The phenomenon tested is known as the framing effect, which habitually causes people, for example, to avoid betting money even when the odds of winning are in their favor. 

What's the Big Idea?

As psychologists learn more about how language influences our emotions, they increasingly recommend that foreigners seek out bilingual therapists and avoid conducting situations in which emotional cues are essentiala serious discussion with a physician or a police investigation—in a second language. The new data on second language use surprised some researchers who thought that the cognitive demands of speaking in a foreign tongue would drain people of the energy needed to overcome their emotions and make rational decisions. More research should be done to determine if bilinguals should regularly use their second language to make decisions such as buying a car or a health insurance policy.

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