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To decide more coldly, think in another language

Published on 06/25/2018
Would you kill one person to save five? I know, what a question… But in a hypothetical case, your answer would vary depending on the language in which it was asked. At least, that is the conclusion of an investigation that analyzes the impact of language on our decision making. In this case, they proposed the following scenario more typical of Marvel movies than of our day to day: imagine that there is a runaway train and that it is going to kill five people who are tied to the tracks. You have a chance to save them if you push an obese man from the top of a bridge who, even if he dies, will cause the train to derail. Would you do it? Well, if this question is asked in the native language, only 18% of those surveyed would agree to throw it to avoid a major accident. However, if the same question were asked in a foreign language that respondents understood, the figure would be more than double, at 44%. The research was repeated in several languages, including English, Spanish, German and Italian, and the results were similar.

According to the conclusions of Hayakawa, Costa, Foucart and Keysar , when we think in our mother tongue, there is a greater emotional charge in the decisions we make and the moral judgment that dictates what is good and what is bad is more present . “How am I going to kill someone innocent?” It would be one of the first concerns that arise. However, when we reflect in a foreign language , the response is more deliberate, less emotional, and more utilitarian : if one person dies, at least more are saved. Language not only influences whether we opt for more emotional or more rational decisions, it even affects our perception of risk and the impact of fear. In another investigation, for example, questions were asked about the risks that exist when traveling on a plane or those of biotechnology. The conclusion was similar: if we think about it in our mother tongue, we will identify more risks and, therefore, more fears (remember that emotions come into play with greater intensity). However, if we reflect on it in another language, we will see more benefits than costs and, therefore, fewer risks.

Sellers in markets or tourist souks know from experience that speaking in the mother tongue of the listener generates more empathy . They do not address customers in English, which almost every good tourist at least knows how to speak, but in the language of the buyer so that they understand them and to reduce distances (if the offer were so good, only English would be enough). It also has its impact on the world of work. If we had a foreign boss or teammates and we wanted to gain their trust, it would be worthwhile to learn their language, even if it is just a few words. Faced with complicated decisions in a multinational, as sometimes occurs in dismissal processes, it would be advisable to reflect on them in a language other than the mother tongue, so that the conclusions are more elaborated and less driven by attachments. And, of course, if we had to deal with a negotiation or a conflict between two people, it seems that we would manage to keep our feelings at bay if it was approached with languages other than our native ones.

In short, there are decisions that are difficult to address. Sometimes emotions help and sometimes they hinder. What science has shown is the ability we have to change our point of view when we can think about our decisions in a language other than our mother tongue.

The last posts of my blog

Latest post published on my website. Subscribe to receive them in your email and share them with your friends.

To see all his articles in El País you can also visit:

https://elpais.com/autor/pilar-jerico/

TALENT MANAGEMENT

TALENT MANAGEMENT

Talent Management This was my first solo book. I published it in February 2001 and it's been a whopping 20 years, almost nothing. It was the first manual on the subject published in Spanish and it opened the doors for me as an international speaker (I started very,...

homophobic? maybe you’re gay

homophobic? maybe you’re gay

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The last posts of my blog

Latest post published on my website. Subscribe to receive them in your email and share them with your friends.

To see all his articles in El País you can also visit:

https://elpais.com/autor/pilar-jerico/

homophobic? maybe you’re gay

homophobic? maybe you’re gay

Homophobia could be caused by the repression that certain people make of their own desires The New York Times published an article in 2012 with this provocative headline linking homophobia and homosexuality. The text exposed the result of several investigations....

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By clicking on “Subscribe” I assume that you accept the conditions of the Privacy Policy of my website and you will be part of my newsletter.

Direction

Gustavo Fernández Balbuena, 11 loft 2º A,

Madrid, 28002

Contact

mail@pilarjerico.com

Social networks

Web design: Digital Soul