Using a Foreign Language: Implications (02-09-18)

Research by Hayakawa and Keysar indicates that when design-related decisions are being made the language being used in a space and the language that design research was conducted in should be carefully considered.  The team report that “Mental imagery plays a significant role in guiding how we feel, think, and even behave. These mental simulations are often guided by language, making it important to understand what aspects of language contribute to imagery vividness and consequently to the way we think. Here, we . . . present evidence that using a foreign language leads to less vivid mental imagery than using a native tongue. . . .participants using a foreign language reported less vivid imagery of sensory experiences such as sight and touch than those using their native tongue. . . . Together, the findings suggest that our mental images change when using a foreign tongue, leading to downstream consequences for how we make decisions.” So, for example, our reports of sensory experiences seem to be different depending on whether we’re using our native language or a second, foreign language.  All study participants were fluent in the foreign language used.

Sayuri Hayakawa and Boaz Keysar.  2018.  “Using a Foreign Language Reduces Mental Imagery.”  Cognition, vol. 173, pp. 8-15.