Need to Logically Reason through Driving Fears? Do It in Swahili

You don’t really need to learn Swahili to reason through your driving fears; you can do it French, Spanish, Japanese or German – provided none of those are your native language. A study published online in Psychological Science examined the way people make decisions in both their native language and in a foreign language and found the latter helped logic rule.

Through a series of four experiments, researchers found that biases that often come with decisions seemed to disappear. The major bias for most is being risk-averse for gains and risk-seeking for losses, which means many will base a decision on what it means for them. If the decision may result in a personal gain, they are less likely to take the risk. If the decision may result in a personal loss, they are more likely to take a risk to prevent that loss.

Here’s a snippet from the study’s abstract:

“Four experiments show that the framing effect disappears when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. Whereas people were risk averse for gains and risk seeking for losses when choices were presented in their native tongue, they were not influenced by this framing manipulation in a foreign language.

“Two additional experiments show that using a foreign language reduces loss aversion, increasing the acceptance of both hypothetical and real bets with positive expected value. We propose that these effects arise because a foreign language provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does.” 

In other words, using a foreign language seems to help folks separate their internal biases from pure logic, worrying less about gains and losses and allowing logic to kick in. If you happen to know French, Spanish, Japanese, German or Swahili, give it a whirl and see what happens.

Read the full Scientific American article:

Check out the study: