Is There a Foreign Accent Effect on Moral Judgment?
SourceBrain Sciences, 11, 12, (2021), article 1631
31 december 2021
Article / Letter to the editor
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SubjectFirst Language Acquisition; Language & Communication
Recent studies have shown that people make more utilitarian decisions when dealing with a moral dilemma in a foreign language than in their native language. Emotion, cognitive load, and psychological distance have been put forward as explanations for this foreign language effect. The question that arises is whether a similar effect would be observed when processing a dilemma in one’s own language but spoken by a foreign-accented speaker. Indeed, foreign-accented speech has been shown to modulate emotion processing, to disrupt processing fluency and to increase psychological distance due to social categorisation. We tested this hypothesis by presenting 435 participants with two moral dilemmas, the trolley dilemma and the footbridge dilemma online, either in a native accent or a foreign accent. In Experiment 1, 184 native Spanish speakers listened to the dilemmas in Spanish recorded by a native speaker, a British English or a Cameroonian native speaker. In Experiment 2, 251 Dutch native speakers listened to the dilemmas in Dutch in their native accent, in a British English, a Turkish, or in a French accent. Results showed an increase in utilitarian decisions for the Cameroonian- and French-accented speech compared to the Spanish or Dutch native accent, respectively. When collapsing all the speakers from the two experiments, a similar increase in the foreign accent condition compared with the native accent condition was observed. This study is the first demonstration of a foreign accent effect on moral judgements, and despite the variability in the effect across accents, the findings suggest that a foreign accent, like a foreign language, is a linguistic context that modulates (neuro)cognitive mechanisms, and consequently, impacts our behaviour. More research is needed to follow up on this exploratory study and to understand the influence of factors such as emotion reduction, cognitive load, psychological distance, and speaker’s idiosyncratic features on moral judgments.
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