What can economists learn from linguists? Behavioral economist Keith Chen talks about his absolutely fascinating research which first of all exposes the concept of “Futured” and “Futureless” languages; languages without a concept for the future — “It rain tomorrow,” instead of “It will rain tomorrow”. He then starts, with the help of extensive survey data, to correlate how a person’s behaviour is affected by their view of the future – which is coloured by their language. English is a futured language, where we differentiate between yesterday, today and tomorrow.
His research shows that futureless thinking means the individual is 30% more likely to save. But then looks at other aspects of life where today’s behaviour has an impact on a future outcome. If saving is current pain for future pleasure, then over eating and smoking are the reverse; current pleasure for future pain. So you would expect that futured thinking would lead to over eating (obesity) and more smoking. And that is borne out in his research.
But the debate online after his talk was heated and his hypothesis and research was questioned. Listen to his talk and see if you are seduced by the math.