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You Think More Clearly in a Foreign Language

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If you find that you're forever making foolish decisions, there might be a solution. A team of researchers has found that thinking in a foreign language sees people make more rational decisions.

During the study, carried out at the University of Chicago and published in Psychological Science, researchers asked volunteers to make a hypothetical choice between a cure for a disease that could definitely cure a third of the victims of a plague, versus a cure that had just a one third chance of curing all of the victims. The twist was that all of the participants spoke a foreign language as well as natively speaking English, and were asked to make the decision in both.


The results show that 80 per cent of participants chose the less risky option when the question was posed in English, but when the question was phrased in terms of death that number changed dramatically, dropping to 47 per cent.

However, when asked in a foreign language, the safe option was chosen around forty percent of the time regardless of which way it was phrased—suggesting that, because there was no change in decision-making caused by the mere suggestion of the concept of death, the participants think more rationally in a foreign language.


They've confirmed the results with a second set of experiments, where people were observed to make more rational choices about placing bets when they thought their decisions through in their non-native language.

While it might seem unimportant which language we actually think through problems in, it seems that the process of thinking in a non-native language requires more effort—which in turn gets focused into analystical, rahter emotional, decision making. Comprende? [Psychological Science via Medical Express]

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