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How Does an Accent Impact Your Image? The Answer May Surprise You

Did you know that how easy something is to understand can impact the way people judge it? Multiple studies have found that things that are easier to process are perceived more favorably and are rated as more familiar, more pleasant, less risky and more truthful. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (Lev-Ari & Keysar, 2010) found that this also extends to speech produced with a difficult to understand accent.

Other studies had previously found that accented speech can produce distrust, but found it difficult to determine exactly why. Lev-Ari and Keysar’s study suggests it isn’t simply due to prejudice as is commonly supposed. Rather, it might be due to people’s reduced ability to process speech that is spoken with a non-native accent. Participants listened to trivial statements like, “Ants don’t sleep” which were spoken by people with a variety of accents as well as native English speakers. They were then asked to judge the truthfulness of the statements. Despite being told that all speakers were only reciting statements provided to them by the experimenters, participants rated statements read by people with heavier accents as less truthful.

The idea that people can confuse difficulty processing a message with a lack of credibility has implications for professional communication. Not only does it suggest a strong accent may interfere with a person’s professional credibility, but the same may be true of any communication issues which make your speech difficult to understand. This could include speaking too quickly, mumbling, not articulating all the sounds of each word, or even being overly verbose and having trouble getting to the point. The take-home message from this research is clear: learning to communicate in the clearest, most understandable way possible, will not only increase the impact and effectiveness of your message, it might even make you appear to be a more credible professional!

If you’d like to learn more about taking your professional communication skills to the next level, give me a call at 212-308-7725 or send me an e-mail at info@corporatespeechsolutions.com. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have!

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Sources: Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2010). Why don’t we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46(6), 1093-1096; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/fashion/29studied.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print