Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 46, Issue 6, pp 1339–1352 | Cite as

Foreign Language Effect and Psychological Distance

  • Hong Im ShinEmail author
  • Juyoung Kim


Does using a foreign language result in forming different moral decisions than using our mother tongue? Two studies were conducted to investigate whether there is a relationship between foreign language effects (differences between native vs. foreign language conditions) and psychological distance. Study 1 tested four moral dilemmas adapted from Greene et al. (Cognition 107: 1144–1155, 2008). Non-fluent Korean–English bilingual participants (N = 161) indicated decisions regarding four moral dilemmas in either Korean or English languages. The study found that for personal moral conflict situations, in which emotion and automatic intuition were more important than deliberation, there were significant differences in ratios of utilitarian decisions between the native language (L1) and the foreign language (L2) conditions. The participants tended to make more utilitarian decisions in L2 than in L1, which implies reduced emotionality in L2. Study 2 examined whether the psychological distance increased using the foreign language (English) utilizing an automatic self-test. Nonproficient Korean–English bilinguals (N = 26) formed associations between three kinds of geometric shapes (ellipses, rectangles and triangles) and three kinds of labels (‘me’, ‘friends’ and ‘others’). The results of the study found the self-bias effect decreased when labels were presented in the foreign language (in English). This implies that the foreign language effect resulted from the reduced emotional response, and deliberation in decision making which may result from increased psychological distance.


Foreign-language effect Moral decision making Psychological distance Self-bias 



This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2015S1A5A8011028). The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of General EducationYeungnam UniversityGyeongsanKorea
  2. 2.Sogang Business SchoolSogang UniversitySeoulKorea

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