Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Women's Tendency to Approach Men Speaking Standard and Non-Standard Accents Varies with the Nature of the Help-Seeking Situation

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Women's Tendency to Approach Men Speaking Standard and Non-Standard Accents Varies with the Nature of the Help-Seeking Situation

Article excerpt

We are sensitive to the statistical regularities in the patterns of objects and events in our environment, which allows us to form categories. We are able to call a new breed of dog "dog" because of this kind of categorization ability. Along the same lines, stereotyping--categorizing people--is a statistical process (e.g., Jussim, Cain, Crawford, Harber, & Cohen, 2009; Pietraszewski & Schwartz, 2014a). We categorize people based on observable and perceivable features. It is a quick and easy way by which the human brain deals with an overwhelming amount of socially relevant information. The accuracy of the stereotypes (or any categorization), however, is influenced by the degree of representativeness of the sample. For example: if one's sole source of exposure to Italian Americans is through the show The Sopranos, the stereotype that one forms about Italian Americans will be based on a biased sample. (1)

Stereotyping has been shown to be context-dependent; for example, race-based negative stereotyping varies in the degree of negativity depending on whether the individuals are seen in a street context versus a church context (Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 2001). As the sections below detail, speech accents, including regional accents within the US, vary in their stereotypic attributes. Accent, like race, is a conspicuous feature that may activate stereotypes in a situation-dependent manner. Following previous research on race and stereotypes, we employed help-seeking situations, as these are appropriate to look for hastily made judgments of relative superiority of an individual or a specific group in a given task based on readily perceivable characteristics such as race (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1983). The current study examined changes in women's perception of approachability based on potential situation-dependent activation of accent-based stereotypes of men's speech, specifically those attributed to the so-called non-standard New York accent and the standard Midwestern accent. Before discussing the specifics related to the characteristics of the help-seeking situations and the motivation behind the gender difference in the roles of help-seeker and -provider, it is helpful to review some of the foundational material on accent-based categorizations and stereotypes associated with standard/non-standard accents in general and within the US.

Accent-based categorization

The tendency to categorize individuals on the basis of age, race, and gender emerges very early in life (see review in Kurzban, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001). Recent work has demonstrated that accent-based categorization is equally prevalent, and may even take precedence over race-based categorization (Pietraszewski & Schwartz, 2014b). Young children display preferences for making friends with same-accented children albeit different race to making friends with same-race children albeit different accent (e.g., black children speaking American English vs. white children speaking foreign accent such as French-accented English). Therefore, when race and accent are pitted against each other, the primacy of accent over race in categorizing people becomes apparent (Kinzler, Shutts, DeJesus, & Spelke, 2009). Even infants (Kinzler, Dupoux, & Spelke, 2007) and bilingual children (Souza, Byers-Heinlein, & Poulin-Dubois, 2013) prefer native to foreign accents.

Infants are able to discriminate between native and non-native regional accents as well (Butler, Floccia, Goslin, & Panneton, 2011). Young children begin to acquire specific accent-based stereotypes held by adults; they attribute southern American accent (spoken in Texas) to niceness, and northern accent (spoken in Illinois) to "smartness" and "being in charge" (Kinzler & DeJesus, 2012). It is to be noted here that we use the term regional "accent" to refer to variations in pronunciation and prosody, as opposed to dialects, which include variations in word choice and sentence structure. …

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