A neural marker for social bias towards in-group accents

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Accents provide information about the speaker’s geographical, socio-economic and ethnic background. Research in applied psychology and sociolinguistics suggests that we generally prefer our own accent to other varieties of our native language and attribute more positive traits to it. Despite the widespread influence of accents on social interactions, educational and work settings the neural underpinnings of this social bias towards our own accent and, what may drive this bias, are unexplored. We measured brain activity while participants from two different geographical backgrounds listened passively to three English accent types embedded in an adaptation design. Cerebral activity in several regions, including bilateral amygdalae, revealed a significant interaction between the participants’ own accent and the accent they listened to: while repetition of own accents elicited an enhanced neural response, repetition of the other group’s accent resulted in reduced responses classically associated with adaptation. Our findings suggest that increased social relevance of, or greater emotional sensitivity to in-group accents, may underlie the own-accent bias. Our results provide a neural marker for the bias associated with accents, and show for the first time that the neural response to speech is partly shaped by the geographical background of the listener.


Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014

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