We behave more honestly when we use a foreign language

According to a new study from the University of Chicago, someone who speaks in a foreign language is probably more honest than the average native speaker.

Boaz Keysar, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and Yoella Bereby-Meyer, a professor of psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, are co-authors of this recent study published Topics in Cognitive Science that sheds new light on the role that language plays in the natural urge to lie.

Language as a way to avoid lying

In the investigation, native speakers of English, Spanish, Hebrew and Korean were invited to play a dice game in which they were paid according to the numbers they drew. The researchers found that participants who used a foreign language were less likely to cheat than those who used their mother tongue. As Bereny-Meyer explains:

When individuals have the opportunity to benefit from dishonesty without risk of being caught, their instinctive tendency is to cheat, while refraining from cheating when they have time to deliberate.

Keysar Y Bereby-Meyer they argue that the findings question the theories of ethical behavior to explain the role of language in the formation of ethical behavior. They believe that the result is due to the fact that using a foreign language is less intuitive, so the automatic response systems that can lead to traps can be deactivated.

The study also provides a compelling narrative about the prejudices inherent in foreigners. "Studies have shown that people with accents are perceived as less credible because they can be more difficult to understand," Keysar said, however, in light of the results, it is not intelligent behavior. Although a person's instinct may be to trust these people less, the data shows that if they are using a foreign language, they could be more honest.

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