Thursday, July 22, 2010

the psychological reality of truthiness?

New research out of U. Chicago looked at the effect of foreign accents on trust. The brief Flash Report Why don't we believe non-native speakers? (PDF; full citation below) found that "People judged trivia statements such as “Ants don't sleep” as less true when spoken by a non-native than a native speaker." There's a cline of truthiness because the researchers did the following: "Participants listened to each statement and indicated its veracity on a 14 cm line, with one pole labeled de!nitely false and the other definitely true. We measured the distance from the false pole in centimeters, so a higher number indicates a more truthful statement."

I found this to be a interesting design idea. Don't force people to make a clear decision about truth value. Frege and Russell be damned, haha! Have these researchers discovered the psychological reality of truthiness?

On a more serious note, they begin the article with a review of all the ways that processing fluency affects linguistic stimuli judgement. from the paper (reformatted for easy of reading):

Stimuli that are easier to process are perceived as
  • more familiar
  • more pleasant
  • visually clearer
  • longer and more recent
  • louder, less risky
  • more truthful
For example, people judge “Woes unite foes” as a more accurate description of the impact of troubles on adversaries than“Woes unite enemies,” because the rhyming of woes and foes increases processing fluency. Similarly, people judge the statement “Osorno is in Chile” as more true when the color of the font makes it easier to read.
Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B. (2010). Why don't we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.025

1 comment:

Glossy said...

"People judged trivia statements such as “Ants don't sleep” as less true when spoken by a non-native than a native speaker."

This entirely depends on the accent in question. I bet most people are more trusting of information delivered in Finnish or German accents than of info delivered in a Nigerian accent. And for a very good reason. Imagine a low-trust culture whose only contact with foreigners is achieved through young, naive aid agency employees from high-trust cultures. In such a low-trust culture foreign accents would be associated with trustworthiness, while local, unaccented speech would be met with the cynicism it richly deserves. I bet this is true of most Peace Corps/ Doctors without Borders/etc. type situations.

The study you mentioned is worthless if it didn't control for the perceived trustworthiness of the cultures from which the foreign accents came. Since it would be politically incorrect to assign trustworthiness values to peoples and cultures, I'm guessing that this study didn't do that and that it is in fact worthless.