Interactions of accent and appearance in social categorization, impression formation, and economic decisions

Hansen, Karolina

When we get to know someone, we instantly form an impression of this person. Other’s accent or appearance can confirm our expectations to their ethnicity, but can also surprise us. Impressions made by people whose accents are surprising to how they look have not been studied. The goal of this dissertation was to examine the combined influence of appearance and accent cues on social categorization and impression formation. The first line of research investigated impressions made by people with native (German) and nonnative (Turkish) appearance and accents. Results showed that Turkish-looking target persons who spoke standard German positively violated participants’ negative expectations, and were evaluated as more competent than German-looking standard-accented targets. Furthermore, we presented a new approach to expectancy violations by assessing not only differences in final evaluations between different targets, but by also showing initial evaluations and how they changed after adding an expectancy-violating piece of information. The second line of research examined combinations of German and Turkish appearance with a standard accent and a native but nonstandard Saxon regional accent. The results showed that job candidates speaking with a negatively perceived regional accent were, regardless if they were German- or Turkish-looking, perceived as less competent than standard speakers. The third line of research showed that bias toward accented speakers can be prevented by putting the evaluators in the shoes of the targets. Participants who needed to speak English before the experiment evaluated nonstandard speakers better than participants in the control group. Overall, the present research shows that language and accent are important social cues and that bringing together visual and auditory information allows for interactions between them and yields a more complete picture of the processes underlying impression formation.


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