Do Languages Generate Future-Oriented Economic Behavior?

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Posted: 1 Mar 2020 Last revised: 17 Apr 2023

See all articles by Ian Ayres

Ian Ayres

Yale University - Yale Law School; Yale University - Yale School of Management

Tamar Kricheli‐Katz

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Tali Regev

IDC

Date Written: January 31, 2020

Abstract

Studies have shown that the use of languages which grammatically associate the future
and the present tends to correlate with more future-oriented behavior. We take an experimental approach to go beyond correlation. We asked bilingual research participants,
people fluent in two languages (12 language pairs) which differ in the way they encode
time, to make a set of future-oriented economic decisions. We find that participants
addressed in a language in which the present and the future are marked more distinctly
tended to value future events less than participants addressed in a language in which
the present and the future are similarly marked. In an additional experiment, bilingual
research participants (seven language pairs) were asked to choose whether they wish to
complete a more enjoyable task first or later (delayed gratification). When addressed in
a language in which the present and the future are marked more distinctly, participants
tended to prefer immediate gratification more than when addressed in a language in
which the present and the future are marked less distinctly. We shed light on the mechanism in a within-person experiment in which bilingual research participants (nine
language pairs) were asked to spatially mark the distance between the present and the
future. When participants were addressed in a language in which the present and the
future are marked more distinctly, they tended to express more precise temporal beliefs
compared with when addressed in a language in which the present and the future are
marked less distinctly.

Keywords: Languages, future oriented economic behavior

JEL Classification: D14, D83, E21, I12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Ayres, Ian and Kricheli Katz, Tamar and Regev, Tali, Do Languages Generate Future-Oriented Economic Behavior? (January 31, 2020). Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3529618 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3529618

Ian Ayres (Contact Author)

Yale University - Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7101 (Phone)
203-432-2592 (Fax)

Yale University - Yale School of Management

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Tamar Kricheli Katz

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv, 69978
Israel

Tali Regev

IDC ( email )

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