There are times when I wonder about some of the stuff that passes as ” research”.
A case in point is a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago who sought to determine the link between accents and credibility.
As part of the research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, American participants were asked to judge the truthfulness of trivia statements by native or non-native speakers of English, such as, “A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can. They found that listeners are less willing believe someone with a non-native accent and their prejudice increases the thicker the accent becomes. Conclusion : People associate truthfulness with the ease of understanding a person and accents make that more difficult.
Dr Lesley Prince, a social psychologist from Birmingham, described it as “inevitable” that accent would be among the factors that people use to judge one another when communicating. He said: “People will be suspicious of what they don’t know. If you have difficulty understanding then that creates uncertainty in the mind. Uncertainty leads to lack of trust.” Shiri Lev-Ari, co-author of “Why Don’t We Believe Non-native Speakers? The Influence of Accent on Credibility”, said: “Accent might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers, eyewitnesses, reporters or people taking calls in foreign call centers.”Boaz Keysar, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, said: “The accent makes it harder for people to understand what the non-native speaker is saying. They misattribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statements.” And a news item trumpeted that “The implications of the research could be wide-ranging as millions of people move around the world and communicate daily in a language other than their mother-tongue.”
All this sounds very impressive but what exactly did we learn ? Merely that ” A person with a strong accent is difficult to understand and therefore does not inspire trust”. Did we really need a research study to come up with this nugget of wisdom ? Sounds like common sense to me . This is nothing new. In another article last month I read about a salesman who was having difficulty making sales because prospects were unable to understand him because of his strong Aussie accent.He took accent reduction classes which cost him a couple of thousand dollars but immediately caused his sales to go up. In fact , accent reduction classes have been around for years which makes me question the value of the University of Chicago study all the more.
It seems to me that the type of accent would also be a factor when it comes to inspiring trust. In these times , a Middle Eastern accent would certainly inspire more mistrust than , let us say, a Polish one. And would a Cockney accent be seen as suspicious , or merely baffling ? What about regional American accents , some of which can be mystifying ? Would they arouse mistrust or would they only cause bewilderment ?
Another point that , in my opinion , reduces the value of the research study is that most conversations still occur face to face and therefore one can’t separate out the voice from the physical appearance of the speaker. Our impressions are more heavily influenced on how a person looks rather than merely how he sounds.I don’t neeed to do any research to postulate what a pretty girl says is more likely to be received favorably than if the same words were uttered by a homely man.And you can take that to the bank !