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

BURKE DESIGNING EFFECTIVE QUESTIONNAIRES: A STEP BY STEP WORKSHOP
January 27-29, 2015
Burke Institute will hold a workshop focused on designing effective questionnaires on January 27-29 in New York.
NET GAIN 2015 THE BUSINESS OF INSIGHTS
January 27, 2015
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association will hold its Net Gain 2015 Conference, themed 'The Business of Insights,' on January 27 at The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto.

View more Related Events...

Related Articles

There are 2139 articles in our archive related to this topic. Below are 5 selected at random and available to all users of the site.

How to choose a data collection service
Lou Roth, president of The Wats Room, a data collection firm, provides 10 guidelines for selecting and working with data collection companies. The article highlights important steps to include in the data collection process.
Why consumers don't understand your concept even though it passed qualitative testing with flying colors
New product launches have a failure rate of greater than 90 percent, even when qualitative testing shows success. This article discusses what goes wrong with a bell-ringing new product concept in the transition from qualitative to quantitative assessment that befouls its communication to the target consumer. The article also outlines steps to take to get around new product roadblocks.
How analytics can inform and improve the ad research process
Incorporating analytics along with data from ad hoc research studies can aid the development of advertising by giving marketers the most complete view of the competitive landscape and an ad’s place within it.
Satisfying no longer: Part I: Satisfaction research needs to return to focusing on the customer
In part one of a three-part series, the authors outline how satisfaction measurement has gone wrong. What started as a well-intentioned, customer-focused endeavor has in many instances become an exercise that is more concerned with, and subject to corruption by, corporate needs.
Qualitatively Speaking: Thoughts on Gladwell’s Blink
A researcher responds to some of Malcolm Gladwell’s anti-research viewpoints as expressed in his book Blink.

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

Market research report
08/20/2013 by Aarkstore Store
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

View More