I Don’t Trust the Way You Talk

Brad M. Griffin | Aug 5, 2010

Its funny about voices. They matter a lot. Newborn infants are known to respond to their parents voices over a strangers. Hearing the right voice on the phone makes us tear up, get angry, or feel our stomach sink.

As a kid I was toldALL THE TIMEto lower my voice. To be quiet(er). To shut up. I was really loud, pretty much wherever I went. Some would say I still am, but I do have a little more self-awareness than I used too. Not surprisingly, my kids have volume-control issues of their own and were finding ourselves saying things like Please dont shout across the table at me to tell your story (on our good parenting days).

Recent research lets us in on another secret about voices: we dont trust people who dont sound like us. Yes, that means accents different from our ownespecially foreign voice inflectionsspur feelings of mistrust just by the very nature of their difference.

According to research from the University of Chicago reported in this Futurity article, Because an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful, researchers found. The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent. As researcher Boaz Keysar explains, we misattribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statements. This may be an unconscious misattribution, but it happens.

How often is that true of me? Of you? What happened on your last interaction with a phone service representative when you were having tech problems? How does this influence our views on immigration, our relationships in cross-cultural mission work, our respect for parents of kids in our ministries whose native tongue is not English? There are tons of implications here for issues of injustice in our communities and across the globe.

Or maybe I should just be quiet.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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