Second language feedback abolishes the “hot hand” effect during even-probability gambling


Research into language–emotion interactions has revealed intriguing cognitive inhibition effects by emotionally negative words in bilinguals. Here, we turn to the domain of human risk taking and show that the experience of positive recency in games of chance—the “hot hand” effect—is diminished when game outcomes are provided in a second language rather than the native language. We engaged late Chinese-English bilinguals with “play” or “leave” decisions upon presentation of equal-odds bets while manipulating language of feedback and outcome value. When positive game outcomes were presented in their second language, English, participants subsequently took significantly fewer gambles and responded slower compared with the trials in which equivalent feedback was provided in Chinese, their native language. Positive feedback was identified as driving the cross-language difference in preference for risk over certainty: feedback for previous winning outcomes presented in Chinese increased subsequent risk taking, whereas in the English context no such effect was observed. Complementing this behavioral effect, event-related brain potentials elicited by feedback words showed an amplified response to Chinese relative to English in the feedback-related negativity window, indicating a stronger impact in the native than in the second language. We also observed a main effect of language on P300 amplitude and found it correlated with the cross-language difference in risk selections, suggesting that the greater the difference in attention between languages, the greater the difference in risk-taking behavior. These results provide evidence that the hot hand effect is at least attenuated when an individual operates in a non-native language.

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