Language and Moral Decisions

Your native language may be embedded into your daily decisions more than you realize. Take, for instance, the moral stance you have on human life. According to a new study by the University of Chicago and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, people tend to take a more utilitarian approach to moral dilemmas when speaking in a different language. Whether you naturally have a more utilitarian view or not, the findings suggest that when speaking in a language from a different culture, the tendency to have a less emotional response increases dramatically when compared with your native tongue.
“This discovery has important consequences for our globalized world, as many individuals make moral judgments in both native and foreign languages,” Boaz Keysar said.
Is there a difference between learning a language from your naturally from your parents or learning it from a computer, book, or otherwise?
According to the Medical Xpress website, learning a language naturally as a child allows it to become rooted in your family, cultural and moral values.
In order to test this theory, researchers evaluated data from 725 participants from around the world, including the United States, Korea, Israel, France and Spain, using two experiments with the well-known “trolley dilemma”.

The first experiment was with the “footbridge” where five people were trapped on train tracks and the participant was behind a very heavy man. The train was speeding towards the five innocent people, but if the participant pushed the fat man on the train, it would save the people, but kill the man.
“Those using a foreign language were twice as likely to respond with the utilitarian approach that is more in the service of the common good of saving more people,” said lead author Albert Costa from the Center of Brain and Cognition at Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona. Costa is currently a visiting professor at University of Chicago.images (1)
The second experiment had the same dilemma of five innocent people on the train track with the train heading directly at them. A man is on another pair of tracks, he too is stuck. The participant can save all five people by switching the train’s direction toward the other track, killing the other man. Again, people were more likely to kill the single man rather than the five when judging the problem in a foreign language.
Foreign languages carry with them foreign cultures as well as foreign emotions. This is not to say that there won’t be any emotional connection while learning a foreign language, but rather those connections probably won’t be as deeply ingrained as that of a native speaker.


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