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Saturday, March 21, 2015

How foreign language shapes moral judgment

By J. Geipel, C. Hadjichristidis, and L. Surian
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 59, July 2015, Pages 8–17


We investigated whether and how processing information in a foreign language as opposed to the native language affects moral judgments. Participants judged the moral wrongness of several private actions, such as consensual incest, that were depicted as harmless and presented in either the native or a foreign language. The use of a foreign language promoted less severe moral judgments and less confidence in them. Harmful and harmless social norm violations, such as saying a white lie to get a reduced fare, were also judged more leniently. The results do not support explanations based on facilitated deliberation, misunderstanding, or the adoption of a universalistic stance. We propose that the influence of foreign language is best explained by a reduced activation of social and moral norms when making moral judgments.


  • We investigated whether and how foreign language influences moral judgment.
  • Foreign language prompted more lenient judgments for moral transgressions.
  • Foreign language reduced confidence in people's moral evaluations.
  • Violations of everyday norms were judged less harshly in a foreign language.
  • Foreign language might act through a reduced activation of social and moral norms.