How a Second Language Helps You Make Better Decisions
What’s the Latest Development?
Recent research suggests that decisions made while using a second language are more rational than those made with one’s mother tongue. In an experiment, University of Chicago researchers gave students 15 one-dollar bills and asked them to bet on the results of a coin toss. Students risked losing a dollar if they guessed wrong, kept the dollar and gained an extra $1.50 if they were right, or abstained from the bet and simply kept their dollar. In purely economic terms, the smart bet was to wager every time, but students who completed the experiment in English only bet 54% of the time while those using Spanish bet 71% of the time.
What’s the Big Idea?
Why would using a second language help someone make better decisions? Scientists believe that when words are less familiar, they exert less of an emotive pull on us. According to this theory, the students using English in the experiment felt the natural aversion to loss—a phenomenon which can make us pass up opportunities for gain—more intensely and therefore bet less often. “Even when people fully comprehend the meaning of taboo words, reprimands, expressions of love, and advertising slogans, they react to them less emotionally in a foreign language,” said the researchers.
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