Communication in foreign language helps avoid emotional decisions

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Communication in foreign language helps avoid emotional decisions

Would you push a fellow bystander in front of the train to save the lives of five people? According to research, people are more likely to do something that they have an emotional aversion to if the communication is done in a foreign language as opposed to their native tongue.  

Previously conducted studies have concluded that people are more willing to sacrifice the life of a bystander if the communication is in a foreign language but the new research by University of Chicago delves into why this happens. Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study explores how communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision-making.

A series of experiments were conducted where the train dilemma was presented to people. The researchers explored how language affects people’s thought process. In the study, subjects broke an ingrained taboo of killing someone because the emotional aversion to it was reduced by the foreign language. Evidence suggests that communicating in a foreign language gives people some emotional distance that facilitates such utilitarian action. It forces you to slow down, concentrate, and understand the problem. According to scientists, a deliberative frame of mind is created that helps people analyze that the utilitarian benefit of saving lives is greater than the aversion to pushing a man in front of the train. Additionally, people may have made the choice due to an increased sense of the greater good boosted by the idea of saving five lives.

Researchers are now exploring the real-life application of the study such as whether the parties involved in a peace negotiation will view the same proposal differently if it’s presented in their own language as opposed to a foreign one.

DOI: 10.1177/0956797617720944

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Published on: Aug 23, 2017


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