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Can the Language We Speak Affect the Way We Behave?

Can the Language We Speak Affect the Way We Behave? By Sophie Mihell-Hale, 10th December 2016

That the language we speak affects our behaviour, in particular our #economic decisions, is not a concept that many #linguists would concur with. However, #behavioural #economist and #Yale professor Keith Chen has set out to prove otherwise.

In his #study, Chen concludes that people save more or spend more depending on the language that they speak. And the reason that he gives? The treatment of time and tenses within a language.

Chen divided the #languages of the #world into two groups- those that strongly distinguish between present and future tenses (such as #English, #Greek and #Arabic) and those that do not (e.g. #Mandarin, #German and #Norwegian).

Chen theorises that #speakers of languages that have a separate #verb #tense for the future find it harder to associate their #present behaviour with their #future selves, which in turn makes them 30% less likely to save #money than those speakers from the other, future tense free, language group.

Naturally, the findings have caused some controversy. #Morton Lau, director of #Durham #University’s Centre for Behavioural Economics, commented that “You have to be careful the inferences you make from correlations like these. It is very difficult to control for multiple factors."

"It's a tempting idea that simply doesn't make any sense."

Professor Chen, however, staunchly defends his findings: "What's remarkable is when you find correlations this strong and that survive so many aggressive sets of controls, it's actually hard to come up with a story of what else might be causing this."

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