If someone who talks like you do told you something, and then someone who had a thick foreign accent told you the same thing, who would you be more likely to believe?
Research from the University of Chicago reveals that people are more likely to believe what someone says when they can understand their speech well, but that foreign accents, especially thick ones, are more likely to have a negative impact in people’s minds. In other words, people are less likely to believe what people with foreign accents say. Does this surprise you, or no?
The study’s participants were Americans, but this behavior isn’t limited to Americans. I’m American myself, but I’ve experienced this phenomenon around the world.
When I travel or live abroad, I’m inevitably asked for directions by locals. When I don’t know the answer, I apologize for not being able to help them. However, when I do know the answer, I’m more than happy to help. Invariably, one of the two things happens though.
In the first scenario, I tell them how to get to wherever they are going and they thank me. Everyone is happy! They have their directions and I have helped someone. But in the second scenario, no one is happy. I start to speak, the person detects that I’m not from around wherever we are at that moment and they automatically discount what I’m saying. Some do so in a polite fashion, while others not so much. One guy in a city which shall remain nameless was quite rude and made it abundantly clear that as a foreigner my information didn’t count. I found myself secretly hoping he couldn’t find the place he was looking for, as ironically, it was a place I know well. Had he listened to what I had to say, he would have arrived there in minutes or I would have been happy to take him there myself.
It might be human nature to be more distrustful of foreign accents, but remember: that person with a foreign accent just might have the information you’re looking for!