University of Chicago has made a startling new discovery regarding accent-based biases and how these preconceptions form at a very early age.
According to a new study by psychology professors Katherine Kinzler and Jasmine DeJesus, children display such biases as early as age five, and it leads them to make associations linking Northern accents with being “smarter” and “in charge” and Southern accents with being “nice”.
The researchers say that the results show that while parental influence has much to do with how young children develop biases against certain accents, it also has a lot to do with what they hear and are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.
Katherine Kinzler and Jasmine DeJesus organized their study by bringing together children from Chicago and a small town in Tennessee. The subjects were then given a picture of a random individual accompanied by a brief audio clip of someone speaking in a either a Northern or Southern accent.
They were asked to choose which one they preferred based on a series of questions.
In one scenario, the children were asked who they thought was “nicer”, “smarter” and “in charge”. In a fascinating twist, the children from Chicago attached the qualities of being “smarter” and “in charge” with the Northern accent, while attaching that of being “nicer” with the Southern accent.
Meanwhile, the children from Tennessee expressed no preference whatsoever based on accent.
Similarly, the children from Chicago said they would rather be friends with people with Northern accents, while the children from Tennessee once again expressed no preference one way or the other.
Interestingly enough, these differences became even more exaggerated as the children grew older. The researchers conducted the same study with 10-year-old children, and in both groups, the children overwhelmingly said that people with Northern accents were “smarter” and “in charge”, while those with Southern accents were “nicer”.
But what was perhaps the most telling discovery about their was discovered when the two researchers asked the children whether they thought the speaker was “American” or “lives around here”.
Here again, the children from Chicago picked the person with the Northern accent as being “American” or that “lives around here”, while the children from Tennessee did not show any preference at either age.
The study’s authors explain that these results show clearly how accent biases are just as much the result of nature as it is of nurture.
They explained these results by saying that because Southern children are more exposed to Northern accents – be it hearing them on television or from the mouths of celebrities – they are used to them and so do not consider them to be foreign.
Meanwhile, children from Chicago don’t have the same opportunity to hear Southern accents. Because the Northern accent is more prevalent where they grow up and in national media, these children are simply not exposed to the Southern accent, leading them to think of it as foreign.
In turn, the Southern children associate Northern accents with prestige simply because nearly all the celebrities and individuals of high standing they hear in the media speak with a Northern accent, creating a self-perpetuating stereotype that firmly entrenches itself into the minds of children by at least the age of nine.
Still, the researchers were unable to prove whether parental influence or cultural norms have a more long-lasting impact on these biases.
Nevertheless, they have managed to show that regardless of where these influences come from, children are extraordinarily susceptible to picking up accent biases starting from a very young age and urge parents to think about these implications when raising their children.