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Second-Language Speakers More Likely to Throw You Under the Bus
April 29, 2014 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Language - Comments Off on Second-Language Speakers More Likely to Throw You Under the Bus

You’re as cold as ice, I know -Lou Gramm

We like to think that moral judgment comes in too flavors only–steadfast and rock-solid.  No one want’s to be morally wishy-washy . We apply thoughtful, consistent  principles to the resolution of any moral dilemma that happens to come down the pike. With moral certainty our strength, we reject the irrelevant when we make these important moral decisions. Hopefully.

But new evidence suggests that bilinguals don’t. Scientists have shown that moral certitude among multilinguals depends on whichever way the language wind-vane happens to be blowing at that moment. What’s the evidence for this missing moral fiber?

Researchers, Albert Costa, Alice Foucart and Sayuri Hayakaw asked respondents that classic of moral dilemmas: “Should you sacrifice one man to say five?”

You gotta think about that one. Weigh it even, since its a moral decision So with alll that moral heavy lifting going on one would hope that your answer would not depend on the language of the question? Costa and team discovered that it made it  big difference. People using a foreign language made “substantially more utilitarian decisions when faced with such moral dilemmas.” In other words, second-language speakers are are more likely to push.

They speculate that this non-mother tongue harshness comes from a reduced emotional response elicited by the foreign language  which reduces the impact of intuition. So does that mean that second-language speakers bring a severity to their second-language that they lack in their original tongue? Yes. That’s right. It’s the second-language speakers who are out there taking names and kicking ass.  Science says so.

“There are good reasons to expect that using a foreign language would reduce utilitarian resolutions of moral dilemmas. For example, there is evidence that utilitarian choice relies on controlled processes that require cognitive resources, and that an increase of cognitive load or stress reduces utilitarian choice in moral dilemmas. The added cognitive load and anxiety of using a foreign language could therefore reduce the use of controlled processes and subsequently reduce utilitarian choice.” So speaking a second language makes people to uptight to be utilitarian because it makes them think too hard?

No. They still think fast enough to push you in front of the trolley, if its the right thing to do. “The reduction of the emotionality elicited by a foreign language may promote psychological distance in general. Increasing psychological distance leads individuals to construe situations in more abstract terms, which in some circumstances aligns with more utilitarian decision making. For instance, a more abstract mind-set is associated with a greater focus on ends than means, leading to more utilitarian decisions in moral dilemmas.” More interesting findings at Plos Your Morals Depend on Language via Reason.

Brrr. So this post is dedicated to all you end-justifies-the meanies hiding under your second-language skin. You may not even know who you are, but the rest of us will be watching our backs far from the train platform’s yellow line.  Lou, take it away….

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