Accents take more work to decipher, and may determine insider/outsider reactions

cristal-colorido-alfabeto-bloque_53-9474I’d heard that people are more likely to believe a person who speaks with the same accent as them (meaning people will be more likely to think that foreigners are untrustworthy*), and another study has shown some interesting results when comparing listener reactions to different accents.

The study, conducted at the University of Glasgow, used fMRI scans to analyse brain activity in Scottish listeners when they heard people speaking in American, English**, and Scottish accents. Participants listened to recordings of nine different female voices: three of each of American, English, and Scottish accents. The research found that brain activity was significantly different between listening to a native accent and a foreign one (even though all were speaking the same language).

“The pattern of neural activity differed strikingly in response to their own specific accent compared with other English accents,” Bestelmeyer said. “The initial results suggest that such vocal samples somehow reflect group membership or social identity, so that ‘in-group’ voices are processed differently from the ‘out-group.'”

My impression is that it takes a bit more work to understand a foreign accent, which would mean that people might unintentionally seek out people who speak in the same way, as it’s easier on the brain. However, I don’t think that this is necessarily related to in-group and out-group issues. It’s logical that a person finds it easier to understand the speech they have heard all their lives. What do you think?

Article: Science Daily.

*I wonder what kind of Google searches will be drawn in by this phrase.
**The article uses ‘British’, but I chose to use ‘English’, as that’s what I assume they meant (Scottish accents are also British accents).