Dr. Shai Danzinger
Dr. Shai DanzingerIsrael news photo: PR photo

The language a person is speaking at any given time may influence their thoughts, according to a new study. Researchers Shai Danzinger of Ben-Gurion University and Robert Ward of Bangor University found that Israeli-Arabs appear to have more positive associations with their fellow Arabs when thinking in Arabic than when thinking in Hebrew.

Danzinger and Ward used a computer test known as the Implicit Association Test, which requires participants to respond very quickly when they see a word on a screen. By demanding rapid responses, researchers hope to tap into participants' true associations, and not the more thought-out responses that may follow.

Arab-Israeli students who are fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic were asked to press one button if they saw either a word with a positive connotation or an Arab name, and a second button if they saw either a Jewish name or a word with a negative connotation. Researchers believe that in such a situation those with more positive thoughts about Arabs, and negative thoughts about Jews, will be able to press the correct button more quickly.

Subjects took the test in both languages, and found it easier to associate Arab names with positive words while being tested in Arabic. During the Hebrew test, the link between Arab names and positive words was weaker.

Danzinger and Ward have published their study in the Psychological Science magazine.

Danzinger told the magazine that he is bilingual, and feels that his responses are different depending on whether he is speaking Hebrew or English. “People can exhibit different types of selves in different environments,” he explained. “This suggests that language can serve as a cue to bring forward different selves.”