Thinking in a Foreign Language Affects Your Moral Judgments?


“Two years ago, researchers led by Keysar found that people thinking in a second language tended to be more even-headed about risk-taking. A certain lack of fluency seemed to encourage deliberation, dampening emotional reactions to the idea of loss.”

Researchers, Keysar and colleagues reasoned that If language indeed affects emotional processing, then it should influence your decision processes.

In a specific experiment, researchers found that 20 percent people who spoke English as a first language and Spanish as a second, as well as Korean/English, English/French and English/Hebrew speakers made a utilitarian decision in a classical ethical  trolley problem when they read the dilemma in their native tongue. The number jumped to 33 percent when they read it in a second language.

The researchers still don’t know exactly why test-takers reacted this way. Something about thinking in a second language may have reduced emotional arousal, or perhaps the challenge of communicating in a less-familiar language encouraged more deliberation.

There are anecdotal evidence and research that supports the idea that second languages tend to have less emotional resonance. Some studies indicate that swear words in a second language seems less offensive.