Have you ever noticed that you are more emotional when talking or listening your native language than in a foreign language?
When my son, who is trilingual, tells me ‘I love you Mum’ in my native language, I feel tears coming to my eyes. If he says the same in his native language, English, I smile gently. I perfectly understand what he says. But my eyes keep dry. The emotions simply do not seem so deep in a foreign language, even when you’re a fluent speaker.
So be aware of the language you choose in some situations! This might influence the outcomes. For example, in business situations and whenever you need to take decisions.
A series of several experiments published by a team from the University of Chicago illustrate that the involvement of emotions in a native language and in a second language has implications in decisions making.
Typically in a choice involving a risk of loosing and a risk of making a profit, we all tend to be risk aversive. This result has become a classic finding for economists and psychologists. This means that humans are not totally rational and do not make choices based solely on their best statistical chances: Most of us in most situations will tend to avoid losses even if this means that we reduce our chances to get big gains. In other words we are conservative. Fear is a much stronger motivator than hope.
The researchers found that this systematic bias was reduced when negociations took place in a foreign language. The study was run in several countries and in various languages to prevent cultural and language biases. They interpreted that there is less emotional involvement in situations where the interactions take place in a foreign language. In this case, this helps making decisions that are more rational, and less driven by the fear of loosing.
So while it’s frustrating to be often in situations where making jokes or talking about one’s feelings is made more difficult by the use of a foreign language, living in a foreign culture also has its advantages: by using a foreign language, you are slightly more detached from your emotions, including fears, and can think and act more rationally.
You can read more here:
Press release: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425093938.htm
Original paper: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/04/18/0956797611432178
And to go further:
The risk versus gain paradigm is a very powerful way to study decision making and goes far beyond the ’15 dollars bets’ that the researchers typically manipulate. To go further, you can read the superb book of Daniel Kahneman “Thinking Fast and Slow.” It’s written for a lay audience and explains how we make decisions, including of course, humiliating descriptions of our systematic limits and biases. An eye opener. In English.