• Tue, May 8 2012

Thinking In A Foreign Language May Make You Better At Your Job

According to new research, people make more rational decisions when they think things through in a foreign language. Humans tend to be risk averse and will stay away from attractive business decisions as a result. But when they think in a foreign language they are less afraid of risks because you are using the more analytical side of the brain. Forget business school, just order Rosetta Stone.

Boaz Keysar, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, used 54 college students who were English speakers, but who were learning Spanish. Each student was given 15 dollar bills and told that they would have 15 opportunities to bet one of their dollars on a coin toss. If they won the toss they would get $2.50 back. If they lost, they would lose their dollar. When the experiment was conducted in English the students took the bet only 54% of the time. When it was conducted in Spanish, they took the bet 71% of the time.

Keysar suggests that a company’s teams might use the foreign language test to see if members are making decisions rationally or whether there’s a fear of loss bias. I would suggest making sure the team actually knows a foreign language before trying this. I may take more risky decisions if I was told to think in French but that is because I only understand five words of French.

This could be an interesting strategy for women to consider using. According to studies, women tend to be more risk averse in their business and financial decisions, which draws both criticism and praise.

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