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See Inside March / April 2011

Accent Trumps Appearance

The brain pays more attention to language when we gauge someone's background

Accent matters more than looks when it comes to identifying a person’s ethnicity, according to a study published in the November Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany asked students to identify Italian- and German-looking men who spoke German with or without an Italian accent. The students were more likely to confuse two people who spoke with the same accent than two who looked liked they belonged to the same ethnic group, meaning accent was more of a distinguishing feature than appearance. The authors say their results emphasize the importance of language in how we judge those whom we meet.

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