Accent can impact speaker's credibility: study

Tue Jul 20, 2010 5:19pm EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article
[-] Text [+]

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger overcame his accent and secured the trust of voters but new research shows that an accent can impact a person's credibility.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the University of Chicago found that people unconsciously doubt harder to process statements more than easily understandable ones.

"Instead of perceiving the statements as more difficult to understand, they perceive them as less truthful," Shiri Lev-Ari and Boaz Keysar said in the study

The result of this unconscious mental operation has an "insidious impact on millions of people, who routinely communicate in a language which is not their native tongue," they said, adding that an accent might reduce the credibility of job seekers, eyewitnesses, reporters or news anchors.

In the first study 30 people listened to phrases such as "a giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can" or "ants don't sleep" in Austrian-German, Korean, Italian, Polish, Turkish and other accents and graded them as to how likely they were to be true.

"People were just influenced by the accent, so when people had an accent people rated the sentences as being less true than when people heard them without an accent," Lev-Ari, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology, explained.

In a second experiment, the researchers asked people to consciously correct for the accent, and forewarned them of the accent's potential impact on their judgment.

The 27 native English speakers, however, were only able to compensate for moderate accents, and as they became more pronounced, the participants found themselves doubting the information more.

"It's just a natural thing that we do ... we're just not aware of it," said Keysar, a professor of psychology.

 
<p>California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks after meeting with border governors from U.S. and Mexican states at the official residence Los Pinos in Mexico City, May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar</p>