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Boaz Keysar: Distinguished Lecturer

Photo of Boaz Keysar

"Living in a Foreign Tongue"

Boaz Keysar
Professor of Psychology
Chair, Cognition Program
University of Chicago

Friday, September 19, 2014
Walb Classic Ballroom
12:00 p.m.

Hundreds of millions of people live and work while using a language that is not their native tongue. Given that using a foreign language is more difficult than using a native tongue, one would expect an overall deleterious effect on their mental and physical performance. However, scholars have discovered that the opposite is often true—that a foreign language provides psychological and emotional distance, thereby allowing people to be less biased in their decision-making, more willing to take smart risks and to be guided more by hope than by fear of loss. A foreign language affects even moral choice and pain perception, and it has also been found that when emotions are crucial for learning from experience, native tongue is crucial for improving choice over time. Living and functioning in a foreign tongue, then, has surprising consequences for how individuals think, feel and operate, and it has important implications for social policy, negotiation, diplomacy, and immigration issues.


Boaz Keysar is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and the chair of the cognition program. His research is about the relationship between thinking, decision making, and communication. He has investigated questions such as how do people take others’ perspective when they communicate, what are the reasons for miscommunication, and how using a second language affects the way people make decisions and solve problems.

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