Tag Archives: cognition

“I just don’t trust you with that accent”: Non-native speakers and the fluency effect

By Erica Zaiser

The other day I was at a pub quiz and a question had been asked which I didn’t know the answer to. While discussing possible answers, one team member said what she thought was the right answer. It just didn’t sound believable to me. Then another team member said the exact same thing and it suddenly sounded like it was probably the right answer. Now, there are lots of reasons why that might happen. I might just have been convinced by two team members voicing the same opinion. Or maybe the second team member simply sounded more confident in her answer, which led to me placing my confidence in her. Or, it occurred to me, it may have been because the first team member was not a native English speaker and the second was.

In an interesting recent set of studies researchers found that when people hear information they are less likely to believe it when the speaker has a non-native accent. According to the researchers, this isn’t just because of prejudice, as one might assume. It’s actually to do with the fluency effect. The ease at which a message is processed is assumed to be indicative of how truthful the message is. In their studies, even when people heard messages which were originally from a native speaker and simply being passed on by the foreign speaker, people still were less likely to trust the message than when it was said directly by a native speaker.

In studies looking at children, researchers found that children were more likely to endorse actions done by a native speaker than a foreign speaker. Although that research wasn’t specifically looking at the fluency effect, it’s quiet possible that it plays a role in guiding children’s choices in selecting to trust information.

The worst part is that I had read this article just before the quiz, so this process was fresh in my mind and it still caught me up. So, for those non-native English speakers out there who are wondering why nobody believes things they say… you may want to put on your best native English accent and try repeating it. Some of us just can’t seem to override the fluency effect.

Read more: Children’s selective trust in native accented speakers.

Read more: BPS Research Digest Blog- Speakers with a foreign accent are perceived as less credible.

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Facing illness, belief helps.

Lady Gaga’s recent revelation that she had been tested for lupus had some fans worried that the pop star is ill. When asked in an interview how she’s feeling, the pop star, 24, responds with a simple, “I’m okay,” before adding that lupus, which took the life of her aunt Joanne, does run in her family. The singer also told the interviewer that “So as of right now, I don’t have it. But I do have to take good care of myself”.

This young lady seems calm and positive about her potential illness. It is very important and helpful for her health. Research has shown that individuals’ illness perceptions predict health behaviors and functional outcomes. There is wide variation between individuals in their health and illness behaviors. For example, how quickly they seek medical attention for symptoms, and whether they take medication as prescribed. Behaviors such as these can have large influences on subsequent morbidity and mortality. Research into the psychological predictors of health and illness behaviors helps us to build theoretical models to understand why people behave as they do, and inform intervention strategies (Elizabeth Broadbent, 2010).

According to parallel response model, that in response to situational stimuli (such as symptoms and the environment), people simultaneously form both emotional states (such as fear) and cognitive representations of the threat of illness, the illness perception. The illness perceptions include ideas about: identity (the name of the illness and which symptoms are associated with it), timeline (how long the illness will continue), cause (what caused the illness), control (how well the illness can be controlled), and consequences (the effects of the illness on life domains). Previous research showed that stronger beliefs about the identity and consequences of an illness were associated with avoidance and denial coping strategies, higher expression of emotions, poorer physical, social and psychological functioning, and lower vitality. In contrast, stronger beliefs in the controllability of the illness were associated with greater use of cognitive reappraisal and problem-focused coping, as well as better psychological and social well-being, vitality, and with lesser disease state. It is because that in a self-regulatory process, individuals choose which procedures (actions) to take to manage their emotions and reduce the illness threat based on the content of these representations. The results of taking the chosen action further modify the representation of the illness in a feedback loop.

Elizabeth Broadbent. (2010). Illness Perceptions and Health: Innovations and Clinical Applications. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 256 – 266.

Lady Gaga Tests ‘Borderline Positive’ for Lupus (People Magazine)

Really not seeing the elephant in the room

By Erica Zaiser

When something changes in our visual field, it seems obvious that the bigger the change the more likely it is that we would notice. However, much research has shown that in fact, we are often blind to large changes when we don’t know to focus on them. An interesting video posted on Boing Boing demonstrates the change-blindness effect well. In this experiment, participants walk over to a desk and are given a consent form to sign by an experimenter. When the experimenter bends down to “put the form away”, a completely different experimenter (wearing a different colored shirt) stands up and continues the instructions. Over 75% of participants fail to notice that the man who stands up is not the same man with whom they had just been conversing.

According to Simons and Ambinder (2005), most research on change blindness has shown that when a major change occurs outside of a person’s visual field (as opposed to a change that is visible as it happens) or in a situation where they are distracted, people are particularly bad at noticing any change. The failure to notice change seems to occur not because of an inability to represent visual information but because we aren’t very good at comparing information from before with information presented after the change. Change blindness is important to understand because people assume that they notice major changes when they actually do not. For example, in witness identification, people might not be accurate spotting differences between people coming and going. Another example, cited by the authors, is in driving safety; people assume they would notice a pedestrian crossing the street even if distracted by talking on a cell phone. The change-blindness effect shows us that we are not as capable of noticing changes in our visual environment as we think we are.

Read More: Simons, D.J., Ambinder, M.S.(2005).Change blindness: theory and consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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Gender, spiders, and media

090908_spiderOf the literally thousands of scientific journal articles published every month, only a select few receive media attention. From among the new research, the BBC recently chose to report on an infant study claiming a disproportionate fear of spiders among women.

The study reportedly showed 20 babies—10 boy and 10 girl—pictures of spiders paired with happy versus fearful human faces. The girls “looked longer” at the picture of the spider/happy face, evidently showing “that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy” when paired with a spider.

The BBC follows the leap of the researcher to conclude that evolutionary biology determines that women (who were “natural child protectors”) are more likely to be afraid of animals.

Notwithstanding the alleged evolutionary implications (some research has linked phobias to nurture, rather than nature), research has shown links between gender stereotypes and media content. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even revealed measurable effects on cognition from exposure to stereotyped commercials.

It’s frightening, to say the least, that behavior might be related to gender stereotypes. While doubtful that pre-arachniphobe females will read the BBC article, existing gender stereotypes are still reinforced, while all of those other scientific articles remain unnoticed.