We trust people with accents less … unless they speak with confidence

When you open your mouth and begin to speak, what you say may matter less than how you say it if you want to get people to believe you. A new study in the journal NeuroImage found that we judge people on the accents in their speaking voice and are more likely to trust accents that are foreign to us if we feel an affinity towards them.

If you have a foreign accent, project confidence

Researchers from McGill University found that different parts of our brain get activated when we hear people speak, and these brain regions help us determine what value we place on what people tell us. To test this, they recruited participants who spoke Canadian-English as their mother tongue to listen to people who sounded similar, like other Canadian-English speakers, and different, such as Australian-English and English spoken by Francophone-Canadians. They heard these speakers say statements like “She has access to the building” in confident, doubtful or neutral voices.

The participants believed speakers who sounded like them, trusting them more with less brainpower needed to determine this. The superior parietal regions of the participants’ brains, the parts responsible for making judgments based on past experiences, got activated when they heard people similar to them. But when the participants heard accents that were foreign to them, their brains had to get more involved to make calls of judgment.

“In-group voices were generally judged to be more believable than speakers with out-group (regional or foreign) accents,” the paper stated. But if you have an accent in the workplace, you are not doomed from the start. You can win trust by simply speaking like you know what you are talking about. Speakers with a regional or foreign accent who spoke with confidence were equally believable as the speakers who sounded like the participants.

“If I want to be believed, it may be in my interest to adopt a very confident tone of voice in a whole range of situations,” Xiaoming Jiang, one of the authors of the study and a person who speaks English as a second language, said. “This is a finding that potentially has repercussions for people who speak with an accent when it comes to everything ranging from employment to education and the judicial process.”

Whether or not it is fair, judgments about your worth at work and outside of it come down to trust. By learning how to trust your own voice, you can help others learn to trust it as well.