Boaz Keysar, Department of Psychology

War and conflict plague societies throughout the world. In part these wars are fueled by biases around how we view ourselves versus those on the other side of the conflict. When in conflict, we typically think of our own motives as righteous and self-preserving while viewing the motives of our enemies as driven by innate, negative traits that lead them to immoral action. While this mentality can help win a conflict, it is hugely detrimental when groups attempt to negotiate peace. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to explore factors that could reduce negative biases against out-group members during conflict.

Specifically, we will explore the role that using a second language could play in making negotiations towards peace. Prior research has shown that using a foreign language reduces emotional responses to information and decreases reliance on cognitive biases and societal norms. As such, using a foreign language may dampen automatic, negative reactions to outgroup members and allow for both sides to better assess the merits of a peace agreement without being blinded to their own biases. We will investigate this issue in the context of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. This research would both extend out theoretical understanding of how using a non-native language impacts our biases and decisions, as well as perhaps offer a concrete intervention to better facilitate negotiations during conflict.

Boaz KeysarBoaz Keysar is a Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Cognition program at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1989 and was a visiting scholar at Stanford University before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1991. He studies the relationship between decision making, language and communication and has published extensively in scientific journals such as Psychological Review, Psychological Science, Cognition, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His work has been featured in media outlets such as Science Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, National Post-Canada, Der Spiegel – Germany, China Daily – China, Smart Money – Russia, Science daily, LiveScience.com, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and Freakonomics Radio.

He has been awarded major research grants from federal agencies and private foundations such as the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation.  Professor Keysar’s honors and awards include a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.

Together with his wife, Linda Ginzel, he is the co-founder of Kids In Danger, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving children’s product safety. For his advocacy work he has been named Chicagoan of The Year, was awarded the Community Advocate Hope and Courage Award by Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Distinguished Service to the Community Award by the Princeton Club of Chicago, and the President’s Service award from President Clinton, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service.