Research found trust-related decisions about accented speakers are more difficult due to our underlying bias for members of our own group.
Washington DC: A recent study has suggested that one tends to trust an individual with a similar accent.
However, the study noted that in addition to accent, one's tone of voice is keenly observed.
According to Marc Pell, senior author of the study, "There are possibly two billion people around the world who speak English as a second language - and many of us live in societies that are culturally diverse. As we make decisions about whether or not to trust people who are different from us, we pay a lot of attention both to visual cues and to a person's voice. Here, we wanted to better understand how we make trust-related decisions about other people based strictly on their speaking voice."
The research found that trust-related decisions about accented speakers are more difficult due to our underlying bias for members of our own group. They also discovered that different regions of the brain are activated to analyse whether to believe what's being said by "in-group" and "out-group" members.
The brain engages in additional processes in resolving the conflict between our negative bias towards the accent and the impression that the speaker is very sure of what they're saying.
Researchers also discovered that when speakers with a regional or foreign accent use a very confident voice, their statements are judged to be equally believable as native speakers of the language.
Xiaoming Jiang, who speaks English as a second language and is the first author on the paper said, "What this shows me is that, in future, if I want to be believed, it may be in my interest to adopt a very confident tone of voice in a whole range of situations. This is a finding that potentially has repercussions for people who speak with an accent when it comes to everything ranging from employment to education and the judicial process."
When making decisions about whether to trust a speaker who has the same accent as us or not, the researchers discovered that the listeners could focus simply on the tone of voice. The areas of the brain that were activated were those involved in making inferences based on past experiences.
When it came to making similar decisions for "out-group" speakers, the areas of the brain involved in auditory processing were involved to a greater extent. This suggests that as listeners made decisions about whether to trust accented speakers, they needed to engage in a two-step process where they needed to pay attention both to the sounds that an accented speaker was producing as well as to their tone of voice.
The findings appear in the journal NeuroImage.