Skip to: Main Content / Navigation

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Add This

Hey qual! Native language may change moral decision-making



Article ID:
20140825-2
Published:
August 2014
Author:
Reyn Kinzey

Article Abstract

Reyn Kinzey discusses the importance of conducting qualitative research in an individual’s native language.

Editor's note: Reyn Kinzey is vice president of Kinzey and Day Market Research, Richmond, Va.

Would you sacrifice the life of one person if it would save five?

If you were raised with a traditional Christian sense of morality, you might not even entertain the notion. Remember: thou shalt not kill. However, if you came of age during the times of situational ethics, you might consider killing one to save five a good deal.

What might not cross your mind is that it might make a difference if the question is posed to you in English or in some other language.

But the language does seem to make a difference. That’s the conclusion of a recent New York Times article “Our Moral Tongue: Moral Judgments Depend on What Language We’re Speaking,”  by Boaz Keysar and Albert Costa.

The authors summarize research conducted in languages “as diverse as Korean, Hebrew, Japanese, English and Spanish.” Their conclusion and the research they summarize has clear and important implications for those of us who do qualitative research with participants who do not speak English as their first language.

Basically, participants were asked to consider a hypothetical situation where they could save five lives by taking one.

The moral decision may or may not be interesting to qualitative researchers, but this point should be made: only 18 percent of the participants said they would take the life when the situation was presented to them in their native language. However, when the same situation was presented in a second language (which they understood perfectly well) almost half of those participants said they would take the deal (44 percent).

This suggests that when we switch to a second language, even if we are perfectly comfortable with it, we may begin to think more pragmatically and less emotionally. The authors quote Nelson Mandela’s advice: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.”

It seems likely that we internalize our basic morality, our beliefs and our deepest emotions with whatever language we are taught by our parents as children. That certainly is not to say that we always intellectually accept the beliefs and values of our parents, but it is probably the case that, for most of us, no other language can ever engage us as well emotionally as our first language, no matter how fluent we become in a second or third language. (Granted, there are certainly exceptions such as cases where people totally forget their native language).

Still, the implications for qualitative market research are clear: If we want to go beyond the pragmatic, if we want to get to the emotional core of participants’ beliefs, attitudes and values, we should be very wary of using a common language even when participants are fluent in that language.

In my case, when I am asked to conduct research with Latinos, I always insist that we bring in another moderator whose first language is Spanish and that we conduct those groups in Spanish. Again, there are always exceptions: we are increasingly seeing Latino participants who have been raised in the United States and are more comfortable speaking in English than in Spanish (we find some Latinos who speak no Spanish at all).

Even with these exceptions, the research summarized in this article suggests that I should continue to resist when clients suggest that we conduct research in English and not the subject’s native language just because it’s more pragmatic to do so.

Pragmatic decisions about research can lead to pragmatic findings and that’s not the language of the heart that we hope to find in qualitative research.

Comment on this article

comments powered by Disqus

Related Glossary Terms

Search for more...

Related Events

6TH CONFERENCE OF THE EUROPEAN SURVEY RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
July 13-17, 2015
ESRA will hold its 6th Conference of the European Survey Research Association on July 13-17 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
SENTIMENT ANALYSIS SYMPOSIUM
July 15-16, 2015
Alta Plana will hold an event, themed 'Sentiment Analysis Symposium,' on July 15-16 at The New York Academy of Sciences in New York.

View more Related Events...

Related Articles

There are 2210 articles in our archive related to this topic. Below are 5 selected at random and available to all users of the site.

Don’t rush through the qualitative screening process
Good qualitative depends on good recruiting, the author says. Want good recruiting? Start with your screener.
Vacations high priority among Americans, survey shows
The American Express National Travel Forecast survey conducted telephone surveys with over 1,000 U.S. residents. The survey inquired about various aspects of vacation plans, including where they planned to travel, how long, how much they were willing to pay, what activities they plan to engage in, and what their attitudes were toward price and quality of service.
Research measures market for new emergency response device
An inventor and former member of law enforcement sought the help of the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC) for marketing assistance. His LifeLite product, a light to help identify the exact location of an emergency, had been well-received by law enforcement and emergency personnel but had never been evaluated by the general public. OLETC teamed with McMillion Research to conduct a national consumer study, consisting of mall interviews in San Francisco, suburban Detroit, and Charleston and Huntington, W.Va. The main objectives were to survey public interest in the concept, determine and confirm the target markets, and gauge consumer marketing opinions.
Measuring response rates in online surveys
Determining the response rates for Internet surveys has been the recent topic of several research conferences and forums. Although response rates are easily calculated for some forms of on-line recruitment techniques, others are more difficult to monitor accurately. This article discusses on-line survey response rate measurement.
A case study of MR design conceptualization
A case study application of how conceptualization could be used to assist a fictional public relations company looking to broaden brand awareness.

See more articles on this topic

Related Suppliers: Research Companies from the SourceBook

Click on a category below to see firms that specialize in the following areas of research and/or industries

Specialties

Conduct a detailed search of the entire Researcher SourceBook directory

Related Discussion Topics

Teen and Parent FGs
08/22/2012 by Amy s. Salem
Shanghai Focus Groups
03/04/2011 by Steve Hanson
How to run a focus group with traders/retailers from a town?
01/13/2011 by Aisling Roche
Re: Paid Research
09/27/2010 by Becky L. Hartin
Telephone Focus Group Project Questions
08/11/2010 by Jason M. Sherman

View More