Thinking in a Second Languages Reduces Decision Bias 

Boaz Keysar

Boaz Keysar

People who can think in a foreign language are more able to rationally analyze risk compared with evaluating risk in their native language, found University of Chicago’s Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An.

Sayuri Hayakawa

Sayuri Hayakawa

When volunteers analyzed risks presented in their native language, they were risk-averse when considering potential gains and more risk- tolerant when considering possible losses.
However, they were did not show this risk assessment bias when they considered the same risks vs rewards in a foreign language.
Using a foreign language reduced loss aversion and increased acceptance of hypothetical and real bets with positive expected values.

Micheline Favreau

Micheline Favreau

This effect could occur because foreign languages are typically processed more slowly than in a native tongue, leading to more deliberate cognitive processing, argued Concordia University’s Micheline Favreau and Norman Segalowitz.

Norman Segalowitz

Norman Segalowitz

Foreign language processing generally requires greater cognition-intensive systematic, analytical effort, leading to increased emotional and cognitive distance than in a native tongue, suggested Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman in his distinction between Thinking Fast and Slow.

Stefano Puntoni

Stefano Puntoni

Even when people fully understand language nuances including colloquialisms, impolite words, terms of endearment and reproach, they react less emotionally in a foreign language, according to self-report and electrodermal measurements, found Erasmus University’s Stefano Puntoni, Bart de Langhe of University of Colorado, and Cornell’s Stijn M.J. van Osselaer.
As a result, more than half the participants preferred the riskier option presented in a foreign language instead of the native tongue.

Richard Thaler

Richard Thaler

This finding confirmed participants’ tendency toward myopic risk aversion, or greater sensitivity to losses when thinking and acting in their native languagedescribed by University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler, Amos Tversky of Stanford, Princeton’s Kahneman, and Alan Schwartz of University of Illinois.

Amos Tversky

Amos Tversky

Among more than 140 native Korean speakers and more than 100 English speakers in Paris, Keysar’s team confirmed the same pattern of enhanced deliberation and reduced framing effects in a foreign language in hypothetical low-loss, high-gain bets.
Just 57 percent of Korean-speaking participants accepted bets offered in Korean, contrasted with 67 percent when offered in English, suggesting heightened deliberation in a second language.

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

Likewise, more than 50 English-speaking volunteers who spoke Spanish as a second language received $15 in $1 bills, which could be kept or bet on a coin toss.
For every lost toss, participants lost $1.
However, if they won, they kept the $1 and earned another $1.50, a significant return on the chance bet.
When conducted in participants’ native English language, 54% accepted bets, whereas when presented in Spanish, 71% agreed to bet.

Alan Schwartz

Alan Schwartz

“They take more bets in a foreign language because they…are less affected by the typically exaggerated aversion to losses … People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language rather than their native tongue might be less biased in their savings, investment, and retirement decisions, as a result of reduced myopic loss aversion” wrote Keysar and colleagues.

-*How do you reduce “myopic risk aversion” in your native language?

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1 thought on “Thinking in a Second Languages Reduces Decision Bias 

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Wendy L. Mantel wrote:

    I always enjoy reading your posts and was looking at the one today on foreign language and decision bias when it occurred to me that I might ask you about something I am working on. I’m in the process of developing a coaching model to support innovation by individuals and teams. I have not tested this yet but plan to.

    My basic idea is to use a personal branding inventory, possibly the MBTI and possibly the NBI (Birkman) to identify individual characteristics associated with creativity among both right and left-brain leaning people. My hypothesis is that people who are not ordinarily viewed as “creative” can be coached to tap into creative resources within themselves, thereby adding to the potential pipeline of innovative ideas in corporations.

    Do you happen to know if anyone has every done anything like this? What do you think of the idea? Does it make any sense to you?

    Look forward to your thoughts.

    Kathryn Welds wrote:
    Hello Wendy,

    Your program sounds promising!

    These references review the limitations of training creativity and approaches to make creativity training/coaching more effective.
    Sounds like it’s worth facilitating a creativity enhancement group and the assessments will offer a great way to measure change.

    MBTI and Birkman sounds good, and some people like the Neething Brain Instrument, but it’s not psychometrically validated.

    -*Are you thinking of introducing Design Thinking as a method?

    Here are some references for your review:

    Crash Course on Innovation, Creativity

    Innovators’s Personality Characteristics and Shibumi Principles Drive Innovation

    Two Models of Business Innovation, Courtesy of Two Kaplans

    The Effectiveness of Creativity Training

    Teaching Creative Thinking Skills
    A Longitudinal Study, Hyunjoo Im, Brad Hokanson, Kim K. P. Johnson

    The Effects of Task-Specific Divergent-Thinking Training – John Baer

    How to develop creative imagination?: Assumptions, aims and effectiveness of Role Play Training in Creativity (RPTC)- Maciej Karwowski, , Marcin Soszynski

    Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training
    Balder Onarheim and Morten Friis-Olivarius

    Rethinking the creativity training in design education: a study of creative thinking tools for facilitating creativity development of design students – K. W Lau, M. C. F Ng, P. Y Lee

    Looking forward to hearing about your program


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