A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by University of Chicago psychologist Boaz Keysar, shows that unconsciously, listeners are less likely to find speakers with an accent credible or trustworthy, and that the level of doubt increases with the “severity” of the accent. The listeners “…misattribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statements,” according to Keysar.
Should this result surprise anyone? There is a lot of research going on around how (American) children see and perceive cultural and physical differences, and the overwhelming majority of these studies shows that if the topic is never broached at home (in the hopes that the child will be “colorblind”), the children are likely to have less favorable reactions to people they perceive as different from themselves.
Human beings are cultural; we have to learn almost everything…. But one exception might be somewhat of a natural preference for ones’ own group, or those we perceive to be part of our own group, whether that perception has any basis in fact or not. If we don’t get information as children (or as adults), about how thing such as language, accent, color, religion, and even culture don’t determine another person’s value, it seems that we’re likely to create unfavorable opinions on our own. Of course, exceptions probably apply for “third culture kids” (kids brought up in ethnically diverse environments, or kids brought up in multi-ethnic families). Third culture kids are probably less likely to perceive ingroup/outgroup on the basis of personal appearance.