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A large part of the world’s population regularly interacts and works in foreign languages. Yet, we know surprisingly little about potential effects of foreign language use on human behavior. This paper investigates the effects of foreign language use on creativity, a crucial factor for innovation. We conducted an international experimental study with 430 participants in France,Germany, and the U.S. to observe creative performance in a real-effort creativity task. More than 2300 resulting creative products were rated by an international pool of raters to measure creative performance, applying the consensual assessment technique. A between-subjects-design and pairwise comparisons across languages allow us to differentiate between foreign language effects and language-specific effects.
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For example, the United Nations rely on only six official languages (United Nations, 2018). The European Commission conducts its internal business in only three procedural languages: English, French, and German (European Commission, 2013)
Haans and van Witteloostuijn (2017) researched language effects on divergent and convergent thinking with Dutch natives who processed in either English or Dutch. They report a positive effect of processing in English for participants with low English language anxiety on convergent thinking, compared to processing in Dutch. The effect turns around for participants with high English language anxiety. However, the experimental design leaves room for alternative explanations. First of all, the researchers cannot differentiate between a possible general foreign language effect, and language-specific effects of processing in English for native speakers of Dutch. Furthermore, the applied unusual uses test for divergent thinking and remote associates test for convergent thinking are text-based. Given that effects only show with language anxiety as a moderator, the results may to some degree only reflect differences in ability. While the study of Haans and van Witteloostuijn (2017) is an interesting contribution to link anxiety to two sub-aspects of creativity, a research gap remains in the question of how processing in foreign languages affects creativity.
While a complete three-by-three experimental design would have been slightly more informative, seven cells are sufficient to disentangle the potential effects (Chapter 2). The chosen incomplete design allows us to use our resources most efficiently, considering the operative effort of experimental data collection at multiple locations.
In cross-pairings, two languages serve as both mother tongue and foreign language. For example, French native speakers process in French or in German, and German native speakers process in French or in German.
In the common European framework of reference for languages, B2 refers to an upper intermediate level.
Three photos of illustrations were plainly black and therefore removed from the dataset.
See also Chapter 2
Living abroad has previously found to have a positive effect on creativity (Leung et al., 2008; Maddux & Galinsky, 2009). While we find some support for a positive effect of abroad experiences on the average creativity across all illustrations of a participant, this effect appears to vanish for the top 1 highest ranked illustrations.
A noteworthy study in that direction was conducted by Hayakawa (2017), who successfully replicated findings of a previously reported foreign language effect on moral judgment.
- Foreign Language Effects on Creativity
- Chapter 3
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