Foreign thinking

According to a study published in Psychological Science, the language you think and make decisions in can influence the decisions you make. The study found that people tend to be more willing to take risks if they are presented with choices in a foreign language than they are in their native language.

The researchers think that the use of a foreign language “provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does”. This is because one’s native language and emotions are inextricably linked, which can lead one to make illogical decisions, while foreign languages don’t usually have such strong emotional connections, so thoughts and decisions tend to be more rational and less influenced by emotions.

There are also articles about this study in the University of Chicago News and the Huff Post.

I’ve noticed that some expressions, such as terms of endearment and curses, tend to carry less emotional charge for me in languages other than English. I know such words in various languages, but they don’t seem as serious or meaningful to me as the English versions. Do you find this?

8 thoughts on “Foreign thinking

  1. I’ve read many articles on popular music, how people who have meaningfull lyrics want to write them in Swedish, whereas the people who write lyrics in English hide behind them like a façade, because it’s harder to see that the lyrics don’t mean as much. People tend to find that ”Jag älskar dig” is much stronger than ”I love you” for example.

  2. Interesting, and I agree. Olof makes a very interesting connection with lyrics. I recently had a discussion with someone about how people listen to English lyrics here in Holland. There are a lot of silly or even bad lyrics. But although people know the words and sing along, they don’t care or don’t notice how bad or silly the lyrics are.

    The first thing that comes to mind is something we talked about – You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (a Dutch singer once said he would have been embarrassed to sing that in Dutch), with lines like “baby baby, I would get down on my knees for you”. Or some silly Beatles lyrics like “o bla di o bla da”…

    It made us wonder – do the English realize some lyrics are silly or bad, too? Do they care?

  3. To stay a little bit more on topic… I write lyrics and poems, mostly in English. Although my vocabulary is not as extensive as I would like it to be, I once noticed I actually think in English, especially after a while being among English speakers. I am a bad translator, because I hardly translate. (I only have that with English, not the French and German I know.) I think (not sure, though) that the meaning of the words I do know well enough are coming across the same way as in Dutch.

    Of course, there are many words I don’t know the exact meaning of. Also, especially in a world where people like to use new words or re-use old words for new things, the meaning of words tends to shift in time and culture, making it harder when you’re not around that most of the time.

  4. Maybe the study has a 75 percent chance of occuring in some individuals? For instance, I think I may have difficulties saying this, but Joseph Stalin might be thinking and speaking first in Georgian and then in Russian (was Russian one of his mother languages or not?), and yet he could still make illogical decisions. (I wish there’s a Facebook share button feature or somrthing for your blog, though. I have a Facebook profile.)

  5. Definitely nuances aren’t as pronounced in the languages I don’t speak on a daily basis. If I’m genuinely annoyed or frustrated too, I get the urge to give out in English sometimes, it seems more heart-felt!

  6. Jerry, oh yes, we do realize how bad or silly lyrics are in English. They’re embarrassingly bad sometimes!!! It’s interesting for me, since I am mother tongue German (but grew up in an English environment) that I find German and English equally as effective for terms of endearment or for venting. Although, there are times where venting in German still feels better 🙂

  7. I’m Latvian. It is a hundred times easier for me to throw I-love-you’s around in English that say it in Latvian. On the other hand the phrase “Es tevi mīlu” seems almost sacred to me, something not to say easily.
    Also in English it is easier to distance myself from my emotions and thus speak about them.
    So I agree that a foreign language has a less emotional significance (even though I dare to think I know English well enough to be able to think and communicate in it easily without ever having to stop to “translate” something)

  8. As a Filipino, I am comfortable saying “I love You” to my love one as compared to saying it in my own dialect.

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