The answer is 'yes', according to a study conducted at the University of Chicago. Those who speak with a foreign accent may appear less credible to listeners.
The study said that foreign accent undermine a person's credibility in ways that the speaker and the listener don't consciously realize.
AdvertisementBecause an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful, found researchers.
The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent.
"The results have important implications for how people perceive non-native speakers of a language, particularly as mobility increases in the modern world, leading millions of people to be non-native speakers of the language they use daily," said Boaz Keysar, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago and an expert on communication.
"Accent might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers, eyewitnesses, reporters or people taking calls in foreign call centers," said Shiri Lev-Ari, lead author of the study.
To test the impact of accent on credibility, 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."
Simple prejudice could affect ratings of truthfulness, so the researchers tried to minimize that effect by telling participants the information in the statements was prepared for the speakers, and was not based on the speakers' own knowledge.
Despite knowing the speakers were reciting from a script, the participants judged as less truthful the statements coming from people with foreign accents.
On a truthfulness scale prepared for the experiment, the participants gave native speakers a score of 7.5, people with mild accents a score of 6.95 and people with heavy accents a score of 6.84.
"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," said Keysar.
Accent is one of the factors that influences people's perception of foreigners in a society, said Keysar.
But its insidious impact on credibility is something researchers had not previously known, he added.
The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.