A newly-released study suggest that people pick up on accents when first meeting someone even more than they see race.
Researchers at Harvard University examined “youngsters” to see who they would align with, someone of their own race, or someone with a similar accent. The study, from developmental psychologist Katherine D. Kinzler and colleagues, showed that while babies are racist, they do look past race when accents are involved.
Kinzler and her team showed that an accent is more meaningful than race in signifying whether someone belongs in your social group. Replicating previous research, they found that under silent conditions children chose as potential friends children of the same race.
Yet when the potential friends spoke, white children preferred a black child speaking with a native accent over a white child who spoke English with a foreign accent.
Kinzler’s study focused on a French accent and showed that even though the French-accented English was understandable, youngsters were nearly four times more likely to choose a non-accented friend.
This must change at some point, because put me next to a girl with a French accent and I’ll melt. But the study does bring up some interesting sociological evolution questions, namely that we pick up on accents first because nearby enemies likely looked just like us, but talked with various dialects. Picking up on these accents kept us from danger far more than identifying race — especially where there was only one race for thousands of miles.