Do accents make foreign-born healthcare workers seem less credible?

People are less likely to trust non-native speakers with foreign accents simply because they are harder to understand, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. When researchers asked study participants to judge the truthfulness of absurd statements, such as "ants don't sleep" and "a giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can" spoken by native and non-native speakers of English, they found that a foreign accent detracts from the believability of the message.

This finding could be bad news for many of the 15 percent of all healthcare workers in the U.S. who were born abroad. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 15 percent of all healthcare workers in the U.S. are foreign-born and one in four physicians in the U.S. were born abroad.

And there's a good chance they have accents. More than 25 percent of foreign-born nurses and more than 20 percent of foreign-born doctors hail from Asia. More than 15 percent of foreign-born doctors and more than 25 percent of foreign-born nurses are from Europe/Canada, Oceania.

"Such reduction of credibility may have an insidious impact on millions of people, who routinely communicate in a language which is not their native tongue, the study notes.

Although the study's participants knew the speakers were reading from a script, they rated the people with foreign accents as less truthful. The heavier the accent was, the lower the score. On a truthfulness scale created for the study, native English speakers scored 7.5, people with mild accents scored 6.95, and people with heavy accents scored 6.84.

To learn more:
- read the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology article
- read the Migration Information Source's article on foreign-born healthcare workers in the U.S.