“Thinking in a foreign language is thinking twice”

What do you have to say in which language?” This question, which thousands of mothers ask their children when they want to be heard, is actually very sensible (like everything mothers say). Recent scientific work has shown an astonishing reality: we think and make decisions differently when we treat information in a language other than our mother tongue. We understand the idea or the problem just as well, but when we use another language, the result is more reflective, less emotionally driven, more utility oriented.

“This promotes deliberative reasoning and makes people think twice,” explains Albert Costa, who has become one of the leading experts in bilingualism through his research at Pompeu Fabra University [in Barcelona]. He began his investigations in this area by submitting to guinea pigs the dilemma of the tramway and the question: would you push a person on track to block a crazy tram if this death saved the lives of five other people? The moral conflict disappears in many people when they think about it in a language other than their mother tongue.

The number of people who would sacrifice a life for the common good goes from 20% to almost half by simply formulating the dilemma in their second language. “

The privileged efficiency

Numerous studies have confirmed these results: in a foreign language, we let ourselves be less influenced by emotions and we favor the most effective result. Our reasoning is less moralistic and more utilitarian. The subjects who participated in the study were fluent in the second language and the experience was done among others in Spanish, English, Italian and German, with identical consequences.

Costa and his colleagues have just published an article in a journal (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, September 3, 2016), where they examine some of the most interesting results and try to explain them.

When we think in another language, not only do we let ourselves be guided less by our first emotional response, but we are more willing to take risks, for example when we are planning a trip or accepting an innovation. biotechnology: the potential benefits matter most. And insults affect us much less. “

Janet Geipel, from the University of Trento, also published a study in September in which subjects were confronted with situations where moral intentions came into conflict with the result. In one of them, someone offered a jacket to a tramp so it was less cold, but he was being beaten because everyone thought he had stolen it. In another, a couple decided to adopt a disabled girl to receive state aid. In yet another, a company decided to donate to charitable organizations to increase its profits. When these scenarios were exposed in the foreign language, the guinea pigs strongly favored the result (negative in the first case, positive in the second and third) in relation to the morality of the intention.

A dual linguistic personality

Geipel had already published in 2015 another study where the situations included a social taboo: a man cooked and tasted the flesh of his dead dog, someone cut a flag of his country to clean the toilets, a brother and a sister decided to have sex. The subjects had to evaluate the ignominy of the act by assigning a score between 0 and 10. Those who read the scenarios in their second language gave on average half a point less.

We do not know exactly what causes this change in behavior, this dual linguistic personality. Costa evokes several related reasons:

On one side, another language makes you think slowly. And we found that the emotional is more related to the first language we learn. “

According to [psychologist and economist] Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economics, our brain has two modes of operation: System 1, which provides intuitive, faster and more effective responses, but also makes many mistakes; and system 2, which uses reasoning. In our mother tongue, system 1 is more easily activated. The extra effort required to use another language would wake up system 2, more lazy but also more logical. This explains the percentage of people whose cognitive biases such as moral considerations or fear of risk have less influence.

Both Geipel and Costa mention in their work environments such as the United Nations and the European Union, where most people make decisions in a language other than their mother tongue. “And there are many people in the multinationals, in the scientific field and in many sectors who work in English when it is not their first language.”

Costa is currently working on ways to apply this discovery. For example, in negotiations where parties have to put aside their personal emotions and biases and focus on the benefits that both sides would get if they could agree. “

To propose sessions in English in the Chamber of Deputies [which blocks the formation of a new government for nine months] might be a good idea!

“Thinking in a foreign language is thinking twice” author Javier Salas Read the original article source:

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