How bilingualism can aid your decision making

Languages14 October 20143.3k

Being able to speak more than one language offers you a number of benefits.

It can make you more employable, give you a greater understanding of other cultures and, according to new research, it also makes you a much more rational decision maker.

A study carried out by the Universitat de Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona has found there is a significant reduction of heuristic biases – which are simple, efficient rules people use to quickly form judgments – in decision making when individuals are bilingual. 

Non-native language decision making

Around 700 people were studied, with the majority being Spanish speakers who had been taught English in classrooms. Native Arab speakers who knew Hebrew were also tested in their non-native tongue. 

The researchers believe the emotional intensity connected with making decisions is dulled when they are taken in a second language, thereby encouraging deeper, more rational thought.

This was backed up by the fact the foreign language effect was absent or reduced during decision making tasks that were emotionally neutral. For example, participants were asked to complete maths-based questions that relied on deduction and deliberate reflection, so answers based on intuition were wrong in both languages.

The benefits of bilingualism 

The study builds on previous research carried out in the US in 2012, which discovered that people making a decision in a second language are less prone to loss aversion. This form of mental bias sees people systematically influenced by the way the choice is framed.

For example, individuals will be more upbeat about the description of a new medicine that says 200,000 out of 600,000 people who use it will survive, as opposed to one that states 400,000 out of 600,000 will die. 

This underlines just how fascinating language can be, as it opens people's minds to some of the different thought patterns that are in existence. 

The bilingual brain

Of course, the bilingual brain is not a new scientific discovery, as there are plenty of studies that show people with the capacity to speak more than one language will respond differently to advertising.

Depending on the type of connection businesses are looking to make – either emotional, intellectual or social – certain languages are going to be better. For example, languages that have their history in Latin are traditionally more expressive and romantic. 

This doesn't come as much of a surprise to us, and we encourage everyone to learn a second language, especially those looking to boost their cognitive abilities. Let's face it, they are the backbone of the localization industry after all.

So the next time you are faced with a decision that needs to be rational, make sure you consider the question in your second language. 

Posted by Decisions made in a second language are less intuitive and more rational than those taken in a person’s native language.


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