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BrainKind Bulletin 003: Do you trust people who speak with an accent?

kath and kim

Welcome to BrainKind Bulletin - your regular dose of neuroscience research.


The (big?) news: 

Unless they speak in a confident tone of voice, you're less likely to believe someone who speaks with an accent.


What did they measure?

26 participants listened to neutral statements spoken with varying degrees of confidence in accents ranging from the very familiar (Canadian-English) to the somewhat different (Australian-English and English as spoken by Francophone-Canadians). 

They were asked to rate how believable they found each statement. As participants listened, a brain imaging technique (fMRI) was used to capture areas of brain activation to see whether there were differences between the participants' responses to "in-group" and "out-group" speakers".


What were the results?

The researchers found that making trust-related decisions about accented speakers is more difficult due to our underlying bias favouring members of our own group. They also discovered that different regions of the brain are activated to analyse whether to believe speech from "in-group" and "out-group" members.

When making decisions about whether to trust a speaker who has the same accent as us, the researchers discovered that the listeners could focus simply on tone of voice. The areas of the brain that were activated were those involved in making inferences based on past experience (the superior parietal regions).

Whereas, when it came to making similar decisions for "out-group" speakers, the areas of the brain involved in auditory processing (the temporal regions of the brain) were involved to a greater extent. 

What does this mean?

The brain needed to engage in additional processes to resolve the conflict between our negative bias towards the accent (don't believe) and the impression that the speaker is very sure of what they're saying (it must be true).

Often we are not aware of the biases we possess - and we studies like this one can help equip us with the knowledge to overcome discrimination.


Your thoughts?

Any questions or opinions...

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You can read the paper here: 

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About Author

Aoife McGuinness
Aoife McGuinness

Neuroscience Consultant

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