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Thinking in a foreign language, we’re less prone to superstition

21 November 2017

Operating in our second language can have some intriguing psychological effects.

We swear more freely and linger longer on embarrassing topics than normal. We’re also less susceptible to cognitive biases. According to psychologist Constantinos Hadjichristidis at the University of Trento, this is because a second language discourages us from relying on intuitive thinking. In a new paper in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Hadjichristidis and his colleagues have shown another way that this manifests – when thinking in a foreign language, we’re less prone to superstition.

In one experiment, 400 native German speakers with proficiency in English imagined themselves in various scenarios, described either in German or English text, about an important day, like the morning before an exam or the day of a job application deadline.

Each scenario involved a break in the routine, which was either mundane (like discovering the kitchen sink being blocked or spotting an airplane in the sky), or had a superstitious connotation – negative, like a mirror breaking, or positive, such as spotting a falling star in the sky.

Participants rated how positive or negative they would feel in these situations, responding in the same language as the text.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.


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