Think In A Foreign Language To Make Better Decisions

Think In A Foreign Language To Make Better Decisions

Everyone makes at least a couple of risky decisions a day. It might be as complex as an expensive purchase, or as simple as picking between a burger and a salad for lunch. Either way, you have a decision-making bias based on years of experience that’s going to make you more likely to take a bad risk. A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests one way to decrease that risk is to think through the decision in another language.

Photo remixed from Tony Aceves.

Researchers conducted several studies with students to test their decision-making biases. In each test a subset of students had to think about decisions ranging from how much money to bet away to how to rationally fight a disease. The researchers found that when you think through a decision in a foreign language you can reduce the framing effect that alters your bias. Thinking in a foreign language also increases the likelihood of taking a low-loss, high-gain bet because it alters your perception of loss and lets you see a bigger picture.

In the end, the researchers believe that thinking in a second language provides a kind of cognitive distance that promotes analytical thought and reduces emotion. It operates like a screen door in your decision making, giving you enough time to pause and consider deeper ramifications and remove emotional reaction from a choice. We know that ignoring your prejudices helps you make better decisions and provided you can speak at least one foreign language (and if not here are a few suggestions for learning a language) this could prove to be an important facet of your decision making toolkit.

The Foreign-Language Effect [Psychological Science]


  • Considering I’m completely crap when it comes to a second language, I can only assume any decisions made with this process will be equally crap.

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