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Poster B55, Thursday, August 16, 3:05 – 4:50 pm, Room 2000AB

Short exposure to a foreign accent impacts subsequent cognitive processes.

Alice Foucart1,2, Hernando Santamaría-García3,4,5, Robert J. Hartsuiker1;1Ghent University, 2Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 3Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 4Instituto de Neurociencia Cognitiva y Traslacional, 5Hospital San Ignacio

Although speaking a foreign language is undoubtedly an asset, foreign-accented speakers are usually perceived negatively. It is unknown, however, to what extent this bias impacts cognitive processes. Here, we used ERPs and pupillometry to investigate whether the negative bias generated by a short exposure to a foreign accent influences the overall perception of a speaker, even when the person is not speaking. We compared responses to written sentence comprehension, memory and visual perception, associated with native and foreign-accented speakers with high and low social status. First, participants were introduced to speakers that differed in their accent (native or foreign accent) and social status (high or low status, based on achievements), to ensure that accent was not automatically associated with lower social status (e.g., lower education level). Participants then played a visual discrimination game with these speakers, and always ended up in the middle rank. This hierarchy phase identified two high-status speakers (native and foreign accent) and two low-status speakers (native and foreign accent). Participants were then presented with sentences containing true, false or unknown information (‘One of the colours of the French/Gabonese flag is blue/green), along with the photo of one of the speakers. Their task was to assess the veracity of the statement (true, maybe true, maybe false, false, don’t know). Importantly, sentences were presented visually to investigate the impact of a short exposure to a foreign accent on subsequent cognitive processes, not the online impact of linguistic fluency (e.g., phoneme distortion). Finally, participants were presented with some of the sentences they had read and had to indicate which of the four speakers had said it. Although no differences were observed at behavioural level, early (N400) and late (P600) neural responses revealed differences across speakers, suggesting that the reduced credibility generated by a short exposure to a foreign accent subsequently impacts sentence processing. The memory task revealed a tendency to remember better a statement when associated with the high-status native speaker than with the other speakers. As an exploratory measure, we looked at the physiological responses to the presentation of the speakers’ photos. A larger early ERP component, similar to that reported for different social groups and races, was found for the foreign-accented speaker compared to the native speakers. Pupil diameter also varied across speakers, suggesting an influence of both social status and accent. Overall, measures associated with the foreign-accented speaker consistently fell in-between those associated with the high-status native speaker and the low-status native speaker. This study is the first physiological demonstration that short exposure to a foreign accent impacts subsequent cognitive processes, and that foreign-accented speakers seem to be considered less reliable than native speakers, even with equally high social status. Awareness of this bias is essential to avoid discriminations in our multilingual society.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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