The brains of Scots responded differently when they listened to speakers with Scottish accents than to speakers with American or British accents, a new study has found. Understanding how our brains respond to other accents may explain one way in which people have an unconscious bias against outsiders.
The research was presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego.
"Many positive and negative social attributes are inferred from accents, and it's important to find the underlying cognitive mechanisms of how people perceive them," said lead author Patricia Bestelmeyer, PhD. "Accents affect perceptions of competence or trustworthiness, important attributes for salesmen and jobseekers alike."
Research conducted at the University of Glasgow suggests that people process words spoken with their own accent more quickly and effortlessly than other accents. In the study, 20 Scots listened to recordings of nine female speakers (three American, three British, and three Scottish) while their brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The authors suspected that brain activity in an area associated with accent processing would decrease as accented words were repeated and the brain became accustomed to them. However, they found this occurred only when the Scots listened to American or British accents, and not to Scottish accents, suggesting the listeners had to adapt to outsiders' accents, but not their own.
"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.'"
Research was supported by the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council and the U.K. Medical Research Council.
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