Specifically, their study showed that people are more likely to take favourable risks in a non-native tongue whereas individuals are more loss-averse when solving a problem in their native tongue. The researchers suggested that the fear of loss was more acute in one’s native language causing individuals to engage in loss-aversion strategies. “An emotional reaction could lead to decisions that are motivated more by fear than by hope, even when the odds are highly favourable.”
Along the same lines, the researchers found that asymmetry in decision-making disappears when a person solves a problem in a foreign language. Asymmetry in decision-making involves a preference for avoiding risks when a problem is framed in terms of gains compared with a preference for risk-taking when the question is framed in terms of losses. (Economic theory prescribes that risk assessment should not depend on framing).
As the researchers noted, the results of their studies suggest that linguistic diversity could be advantageous for objective decision-making because it creates cognitive and emotional distance. Human beings process information via two routes. One route is automatic, largely driven by emotional factors, and activates well-established heuristics or other cognitive shortcuts including biases. As we switch to controlled processing, we rely less on cognitive shortcuts like biases and emotions or intuition to drive our responses and apply a more rational and deliberate thinking style. Thinking in a foreign language triggers more deliberate and conscious thought whereas thinking in one’s native tongue activates automatic and emotional processing of information.
Because speaking in a foreign language engages more rational and objective thought, linguistic diversity offers tremendous potential for improving decision-making and problem-solving. Non-native speakers may be less prone to bias and emotional responses. The linguistic diversity advantage may be particularly valuable in high-stakes decision-making and when a workgroup is under pressure. Stress can trigger a reliance on automatic processing, but this is less likely for non-native speakers. Next time your team is faced with a difficult problem or high stakes decision – it could be beneficial to pay attention to the perspectives and ideas of members with linguistically diverse backgrounds.