Going off the rails

There is a famous dilemma called the Trolley Problem in which a person has to decide when faced with a runaway train carriage whether to do nothing and let it kill five people or divert it and only kill one. What would you do? Logically you should divert and kill one but it is a difficult decision to make in reality. Make the equation more complex: you can stop the trolley and save five lives by pushing the fat man beside onto the rails (you are not heavy enough so a heroic suicide is not an option!) and he will die but save five lives in the process. Having to physically push the victim makes the dilemma even more demanding morally and cognitively.

dilemmaInterestingly, recent research in a university in Barcelona throws up a linguistic angle to the issue. Essentially, when subjects were explained the situation and decision in a foreign language (which they spoke fluently) they were more willing to kill the fat man. Why? Because the presumption is, even when fluent in a second language your brain is still processing it in a more reasoned way and thus the brain is devoted to more logical than instinctive decision making. As the article below points out, given that so many company boardrooms use English as the main language, and it is often a second language for many of the board members, this might bring benefits to managerial decision making!

As EFL teachers many of us are also competent in another language and live in foreign countries: people should think twice before standing beside us on a train platform; or if you are caught on a runaway metro train you should hope and pray there is a non-native speaker waiting up ahead willing to sacrifice passers-by to save you. And if English was a Lingua Franca would we all end up in the same boat?

Original article: http://tinyurl.com/mhmpkl3

Search Wikipedia or Youtube for “Trolley dilemma”

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