Does second language use reduce bias in decision making?

Of interest to feminist philosophers…I haven’t read this but I’m intrigued. I’m curious as to whether the foreign language effect applies to the kind of biases feminists and others have been concerned about in academic life. Should we conducting hiring committee meetings in German, for example?

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


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.

Boaz Keysar,
Sayuri L. Hayakawa and
Sun Gyu An

The University of Chicago

Published online before print April 18, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0956797611432178 Psychological Science April 18, 2012 0956797611432178

4 thoughts on “Does second language use reduce bias in decision making?

  1. The article seems interesting, but I find it difficult to agree with it, especially because it does not seem that the experiment considered the very likely situation when people use a foreign language so much that they identify it as their own. I feel I am quite personal in my response, but I could definitely answer that I do take the same decisions in both my native tongue and English, which is my second language.
    However, the article does not give enough information and I think we need better research when it comes to language, because the phenomenon is very complex and a lot more complex than they seem to present it here, as there are not taken into account factors like how much one uses or knows a foreign language.

  2. Like Madalina, I feel that I take the same kind of decisions in either languages. The fact is my work language is English. It is not the case that sometimes I take a work-related decision in French and sometimes in English. In a way, I guess, English is my native language with regards to work. I am wondering if what they are talking about operates at a subconscious level, much the same way that unconscious bias operates.

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