Thinking in another language could reduce biases

by [anonymous]1 min read19th Sep 20124 comments


Personal Blog

From Wired:

The experiments themselves relied on classic paradigms borrowed from prospect theory, in which people are asked to make decisions under varying conditions of uncertainty and risk. For instance, native English speakers in Chicago who had learned Spanish in the classroom were given a $15 stake. Then, they were asked to make various bets based on a coin toss: If they correctly picked heads or tails, they would win $1.50, while an incorrect guess would cost them $1. From a rational perspective, these bets are a smart wager – a subject who chooses to bet on all 15 trials would most likely come out far ahead.

But people aren’t rational creatures. When thinking in English, students only chose to bet 54 percent of their time; their fear of losses kept them from properly assessing the situation. However, when the same options were described in Spanish, subjects made significantly better decisions, choosing to place bets 71 percent of the time.

When faced with mathematically identical but differently-worded decisions about whether to take a 'risky' or 'safe' option in saving people:

When 121 American students were given a version of the scenario above, nearly 80 percent chose the safe option, just like those doctors. However, when the same situation was placed in a loss frame, that number plummeted to 47 percent. So far, so obvious: we are consistently inconsistent creatures.

But when native English speakers were presented with the same problem in Japanese, the inconsistency vanished. In both frames, the number of people choosing the safer option was just over 40 percent.

Their interpretation:

Instead, the psychologists found that the reduced emotional valence of a second language – the words aren’t so weighted with feeling – made it easier to resist the tug of loss aversion. (Similar results have been achieved with neurological patients who, after suffering a serious brain injury, are unable to experience any emotion at all.) The scientists argue that second-language thinking can systematically improve decision-making: “People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language might be less biased in their savings, investment and retirement decisions,” they write. “Over a long time horizon, this might very well be beneficial.” Given the known costs of loss aversion among financial traders – it’s a huge issue – perhaps it’s time that those on Wall Street begin thinking in a non-native tongue.

At least one of the studies is available here, but I haven't found the other one.

Personal Blog