Why The Truth May Be Hard To Hear

Could your ears be prejudice? A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that there may be a more specific reason why you don’t believe everything you hear, your ears may only trust people that sound like you. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that statements made by someone with a foreign accent were perceived as less truthful than those made by a fellow native speaker.

To prove the theory the researches set up two experiments. The first experiment tested their overall theory of whether trivia statements such as, “A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can,” sound less true when said with a foreign accent. (Yes, by the way, a giraffe can indeed go longer without water then a camel.) They also took varying levels of accent into consideration, using three native English speakers, three non-native English speakers with a mild accent and three non-native English speakers with a heavy accent.

All speakers recorded 45 trivia statements that were given to them by a native speaker. Test subjects were made aware that the speakers were only reciting what the experimenter wrote to ensure that their judgement was directly related to what they heard only.

The results to the first experiment were as researchers had predicted, participants incorrectly credited the difficulty of understanding the accent to the truthfulness of the statement.

The second experiment asked 27 participants to not only share whether or not the statements sounded truthful, but to rate the difficulty of understanding each speaker on a scale ranging from very easy to very difficult.

Unlike the first experiment, participants were made aware of the intentions of the study, which could explain why they succeeded in understanding speakers with a mild accent as a way to avoid judging credibility based on accent. Though, when they listened to statements by speakers with a heavy accent, results were the same as in experiment one.

Why? The reason may be in part that the  ease of processing stimuli, external events that influence behavior, are also known as “processing fluency” and affect the way stimuli are judged. This means that when stimuli are easier to process, they are understood as more familiar, thus more truthful.

It seems as though subconscious feelings not only affect jealousy and other feelings, but can also change how reliable we find information to be.

So while no studies have been done on the credibility of speakers with Jersey Shore accents, we suggest you think twice before discrediting them simply for how they order their morning cup of “cawfee.”

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