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The power of the spoken word: Sociolinguistic cues influence the misinformation effect
Lana A. Vornik, Stefanie J. Sharman, and Maryanne Garry Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
We investigated whether the sociolinguistic information delivered by spoken, accented postevent narratives would influence the misinformation effect. New Zealand subjects listened to misleading postevent information spoken in either a New Zealand (NZ) or North American (NA) accent. Consistent with earlier research, we found that NA accents were seen as more powerful and more socially attractive. We found that accents per se had no influence on the misinformation effect but sociolinguistic factors did: both power and social attractiveness affected subjects' susceptibility to misleading postevent suggestions. When subjects rated the speaker highly on power, social attractiveness did not matter; they were equally misled. However, when subjects rated the speaker low on power, social attractiveness did matter: subjects who rated the speaker high on social attractiveness were more misled than subjects who rated it lower. There were similar effects for confidence. These results have implications for our understanding of social influences on the misinformation effect.
More than 25 years of research has created a substantial body of evidence showing that misleading postevent information (PEI) can negatively affect memory reports of events (Belli, 1989; Dodd & Bradshaw, 1980; Greene, Flynn, & Loftus, 1982; Loftus, 1975, 1991; Loftus, Miller, & Burns, 1978). The misinformation effect is the influence of erroneous PEI on memory-test responses (Belli, 1989; Loftus & Hoffman, 1989). In the standard misinformation experiment, subjects are first shown an event, in the form of a slide sequence or a video depicting something like a shoplifting episode or a car accident. After a delay, they are presented with PEI that is misleading for some aspects of the event, but not others. Subjects are typically more accurate about control items (aspects not targeted by misleading information) than about misled items.
Factors that influence the misinformation effect
Research shows that certain conditions affect the likelihood that subjects adopt inaccurate PEI, such as the delay between the original event and the PEI, the reliability of the person who delivers the PEI, and the time given to subjects to view the original event. For instance, the longer the delay between the original event and the PEI, the more likely it is that subjects incorporate the misinformation into their final reports, presumably because the passing of time weakens their memories for the event (Loftus et al., 1978). We also know that some social factors influence whether people capitulate to the misleading suggestions (see, for example, Assefi & Garry, in press). For instance, the source of the PEIÐwhom we might call the ``misinformation messenger''Ðmatters (Ceci, Ross, & Toglia, 1987; Dodd & Bradshaw, 1980; Lampinen & Smith, 1995). In their experi-
Requests for reprints should be sent to Maryanne Garry, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand. Email: email@example.com We thank Scott Brown, Peter Smith, Seema Assefi, Sonia Cunningham, Ann Weatherall, Rachel Sutherland, Beth Loftus, the Cognitive Workshop, and especially Louise Frost for recording the postevent information. We also thank Don Read for suggesting the covariate analysis.
# 2003 Psychology Press Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/pp/09658211.html
if the information about the messenger were conveyed in a more subtle manner? One way in which information about the messenger may be conveyed more subtly is by delivering spoken PEI in various accents. we examined whether the information conveyed by accent can make people more or less susceptible to misinformation effects. Seggie. Podberesky. 1983). In the end. Would these social factors still influence the misinformation effect if they were not telegraphed as explicitly. the impact of spoken misleading PEI is likely to depend on subjects' appraisal of social attractiveness. and friendliness (Bayard. Then he asked the students for their views about capital punishment for a second time. 1995. & Feldstein. Bogo. & Giles. Luhman. 1990). Accents . that is. Sociolinguistic research has shown that accent conveys much information about the speaker. & Lambert. 1990). such as NA. English-speaking countries rate their own accent higher on social attractiveness. and devalue NZ English on all characteristics when it is compared with other English language accents. In this experiment. However. Webster & Kramer. Half the subjects were told that the questions were asked by a lawyer representing the driver who caused the accidentÐan unreliable sourceÐand the remaining subjects were not given any information about the source. 1983). 1990. most researchers investigating whether social factors influence the misinformation effect have explicitly telegraphed that information to subjects. RP) and the speaker. Ryan. Information conveyed by accent The social psychology literature has shown that accents are paralinguistic sources of information (Riches & Foddy. SHARMAN. 1983. and dependable (Giles. In what Bayard (1995) calls ``cultural cringe''. Social attractiveness is a wellknown construct in the sociolinguistic literature. Accents also carry information about the power of the speaker. Gallois. then had them listen to arguments in either local English accents or RP. In general. to the extent that our subjects rate the NZ accent lower and the NA accent higher on social attractiveness. Dodd and Bradshaw (1980) manipulated the misinformation messenger's profession: Subjects were told the PEI was provided by a defence lawyer or given no information about source. the argument in the local accent was more likely to cause the students to change their thoughts on capital punishment. most research examining attitudes towards variants of English show that the greater the gap between standard speech (NA. Callan. 1968). and locally accented speakers appear more trustworthy. Luhman. They later provided us with information about the social attractiveness and power conveyed by the accent. New Zealanders rate more valued forms of English such as NA and British Received Pronunciation (RP. the less powerful listeners find that speaker (Anisfeld. Finally. 1989. Both RP and NA are perceived as more powerful and prestigious than other English variants (Giles. subjects do not simply accept information from any source: Certain conditions such as unreliability of the speaker can dampen the effect of misleading PEI on memory. The question we ask here is whether the sociolinguistic information conveyed by different accents has an influence on the misinformation effect. Dodd and Bradshaw asked subjects to view slides of a car accident. and includes characteristics such as trustworthiness. Giles (1973) asked high-school students what they thought about capital punishment. Therefore. Therefore. 1985). dependability. 1971. & Forbes. (1987) manipulated the messenger's age. We also know that accents rated higher on social attractiveness are more persuasive. 1990). Deluty. but the ``defence lawyer'' subjects to reject it. and then listened to misleading PEI in either a New Zealand (NZ) or North American (NA) accent. and Lampinen and Smith (1995) manipulated both age and credibility to convey information about the source of the PEI. 1971. GARRY ment. and then answer some questions that contained misleading information. For example. they should be more misled by PEI presented in a NA accent than PEI presented in a NZ accent. In general. 1962. New Zealanders buck this trend. Stewart. convey different types of information. subjects were tested for their memory of the original event. The research on language suggests that in a misinformation experiment. New Zealand subjects watched a slide sequence. Ceci et al. Power. otherwise known as the Queen's English) higher on social attractiveness than the local NZ accent (see also Hyugens & Vaughan. friendly. However.102 VORNIK. For example. Luhman. 1971. Dodd and Bradshaw found that misleading questions led the ``no source'' subjects to adopt the misleading information. Social attractiveness. including information about social attractiveness and power (Giles.
such as speech rate. 1989. the subjects listened to a 3 minute. & Harriman. The narratives were recorded in the same female voice by a volunteer actor whose native language was NZ English. Phase two proceeded with 93 subjects in the NA condition and 91 subjects in the NZ condition. However. and less misled by an accent they rate low on power and social attractiveness. One way to weaken the misinformation effect is by varying slide exposure time. However. a further 33 subjects (15%) were excluded because they did not correctly identify (or left blank a question about) the accent of the speaker. The slide sequence was followed by a 20 minute filler activity during which subjects completed a word puzzle. to the NA condition. Lambert. leaving 99 NA subjects and 118 NZ subjects. 1982. 1985). another 10% of NZ subjects mistakenly identified the accent as Australian. Counterbalancing ensured that each version of the eight critical slides was shown equally often in all accent conditions. After the filler task. it would be evidence that memory distortions are sensitive to more subtle types of information. Potentially confounding paralinguistic variations found to affect the perception of speech. 1992. they should be more misled by PEI presented in a NA accent than PEI presented in a NZ accent. Overall. who were simply asked to guess where the speaker was from. 500 word narrative describing the event. the better the chance for subjects to encode the original information successfully. 1980. 1998). on the basis of their intact laboratory classes. it would be evidence that these sociolinguistic factors do not affect the misinformation effect and more explicit cues about the source of the misinformation are necessary. Coupland. Although they were advised that the narrative had been recorded by a NZ or a US postgraduate student. a finding that fits with research showing New Zealanders and Australians often have difficulty distinguishing the two accents and react to them similarly (Weatherall. Subjects watched a series of 61 slides depicting a young man shoplifting in a university bookstore (Loftus. such as sociolinguistic factors. The slides were the same for all subjects except for the eight critical slides displayed in one of two versions. Gardner. and intonation and pitch (Brown. Thus. Henwood. ``elevator'' was changed to ``lift''). and 141 were similarly assigned to the NZ condition. and may overshadow the relatively weaker effect of sociolinguistic factors. half of the subjects viewed each slide for 3 seconds and the other half viewed each slide for 6 seconds. The wording of the narratives was changed slightly to accommodate NZ colloquialisms (for instance. and the less likely they are to be misled by PEI. Gumperz. in two different accents). NZ and NA English. 118 subjects were assigned. to the extent that our subjects rate the NZ accent lower and the NA accent higher on power. 1982) are therefore held constant and the judgements are believed to represent the stereotyped attitudes towards the language varieties under investigation. Interestingly however.1 1 The matched guise technique was used in the experiment. The longer the slides remain on the screen. Giles (1973) has demonstrated that socially attractive speakers can be more persuasive than powerful speakers. our NA accented version was played to two Americans. We manipulated the viewing time of the slides because the misinformation effect tends to be medium to large. Of these. METHOD Subjects Subjects were 259 Victoria University of Wellington students who completed the experiment as a voluntary part of their lab programme. Although 94% of NA subjects correctly reported the speaker's accent. if subjects were similarly misled regardless of power and social attractiveness ratings. & Fillenbaum. In the matched guise technique a narrative is tape-recorded by the same speaker in different guises (for instance. McCloskey & Zaragoza. . Procedure As with previous misinformation studies (Belli. Giles. if subjects are more misled by an accent they rate high on power and social attractiveness. Therefore there is reason to speculate that social attractiveness will have a different influence depending on the power of the speaker. Data from subjects whose native language was not NZ English were excluded (approximately 16% in each condition). 1991). & Pittam. subjects were initially told that the purpose of the study was to see if mode of information presentation (visual or verbal) affects the way that information is learned. To ensure face validity. Hadgson. Gallois. 77% of NZ subjects did so.SOCIOLINGUISTIC CUES AND MISINFORMATION 103 Therefore. 1960). It is not revealed to the subjects that the narratives have been recorded by the same speaker (Edwards. Four versions of the narrative were prepared and each audiotaped in two accents. Both of them guessed a region of the US. but we made no mention of North America.
All subjects were then debriefed. 1996). and prestigious. such as a candle. selfconfident. Brown & Gilman. Recall that NA speakers should be rated higher than NZ speakers on both power and social attractiveness. indicating strong internal consistency. and the misinformation effect. Principal components factor analysis with Varimax rotation extracted three distinctive factors.91). For both accents. the yellow candle was called white). a leader. RESULTS Our main research question was whether the sociolinguistic information conveyed by different accents had an influence on the misinformation effect. The last two questions on the test asked subjects to indicate their native language. These scales contained 22 sixpoint unipolar rating scales adapted from Podberesky et al. we needed to determine whether our subjects rated the NZ and NA accents in line with the sociolinguistic literature. Having demonstrated good internal consistency. as shown by the main effect for accent in a 2 (accent) 6 2 (attitude factors) mixed ANOVA. Two items did not load highly on any factor. There was a third factor. Each pair of bars in Figure 1 represents subjects' mean ratings on each factor for either the NA or NZ accent. Each rating scale contained a personality trait or characteristic followed by ratings from 1 (not at all like the speaker) to 6 (very much like the speaker). and these items were excluded from any further analyses. Although we generated three factors from our analysis. subjects were asked to write down the speaker's accent. For instance. ambitious. the items presumed to be under each factor did indeed load highly on that factor. New Zealand. Both power and social attractiveness ratings were higher for the NA accent than for the NZ accent. In the final stage. Communality values were moderately high for all items. in the analyses we report here charisma had no effect on the pattern of results. SHARMAN. Analysis of variance of the rating scales. and the others were fillers. and the second factor the power factor. F(1. strong. The first factor was the social attractiveness factor. Australian. Therefore. British. Eight items were critical. Counterbalancing ensured that each version of a critical slide acted equally often as a control item and a misinformation item. speakers were seen as more socially attractive than powerful. Immediately afterwards. subjects completed scales to measure their attitude towards the PEI speaker. educated. If they chose ``other''. The cut-off point for inclusion of a variable in the interpretation of a factor was set to . we include only the effects of social attractiveness and power.40. See the Appendix for the list of characteristics that subjects rated. The attitude scale showed a high Cronbach's alpha (a = . For each item subjects rated their confidence in the accuracy of their answers on a scale from 1 (not confident at all) to 5 (very confident). we evaluated the attitude scale that we used to assess subjects' views towards the variously accented PEI. they took part in another 5 minutes of filler activity. and were referred to by the generic category name.104 VORNIK. We generated factor scores for each subject by taking the mean of the variables associated with each factor. The other four items were used as a control. powerful. power. Attitude scales Before we examined the relationship among social attractiveness. the power factor consisted of eight individual items: intelligent. In fact. As the Appendix shows. two alternative forced choice standard recognition test on the slide sequence. Did subjects treat NA and NZ accented speakers differently? To answer this question. First. After listening to the narrative. 1995.72. or other. Giles & Coupland. subjects did indeed respond to the NZ and NA accents differently. 1960. They were explicitly told to base their answers only on what they saw in the slides and not on anything they might have heard afterwards. we classified the two attitude factors by accent. suggesting that a large proportion of the variance in the variables was accounted for by the factors. 1991). which was similar to a factor identified in the sociolinguistic literature as charisma (Bayard. 75) = 13. (1990) and Bayard (1995). as shown in Figure 1. one item loaded highly on two factors. .01. These factor scores were used in subsequent analyses. subjects completed a 19-item. we then performed a factor analysis to verify the a priori grouping of the attitude scale. and to identify the accent of the speaker as North American. p < . and that the variables were well defined by the factor solution (Tabachnick & Fidell. GARRY In each version of the narrative four of the critical items were misleading (for instance.
p < . f = 0. In other words. Another way of looking at subjects' confidence is to examine their ratings when their answers were incorrect. F < 1. In performing these analyses. F(1. 75) = 32. F(1. subjects were less accurate when they were misled than when they were not. misled subjects were more confident about their answers than control subjects. we have assumed that accents are relatively pure carriers of social attractiveness and power information. 182) = 35. even though we found no influence of accent per se on the misinformation effect. we can look specifically at the confidence of subjects who have ``bought into'' the misleading suggestion.01. F < 1.SOCIOLINGUISTIC CUES AND MISINFORMATION 105 Figure 1. f = 0. However. However. 182) = 39.01. 1988).61. Confidence when wrong. subjects had different attitudes towards NA and NZ accents on both power and social attractiveness factors. F(1. The effect of accented PEI on the misinformation effect (top panel) and mean misled and control confidence estimations (bottom panel). Note that subjects were correct less often on misled items than on control items. p < .50. Influence of accent on the misinformation effect Were subjects more misled by the NA accent than the NZ accent? The top panel of Figure 2 shows subjects' performance (number of correct responses out of a total of four) when they received misinformation and when they did not.02. we have assumed that accents can proxy for these factors. the parallel lines show that accent did not matter: there was no effect of accent on confidence. Figure 2 also shows that accent did not matter. The mean rating for each factor for PEI spoken in a NA or NZ accent. F(1. f = 0. accents may also carry other information about the speaker. When they were wrong. a medium-sized effect. Figure 2. . There was no effect of accent on these confidence estimations. In short.01.17. Therefore. The bottom panel of Figure 2 shows subjects' confidence on misled and control items.05. In both accent conditions. The nearly parallel lines show that accent did not influence the misinformation effect.53. Next.01. Once again. p < . it may be more useful to examine the influence of social attractiveness and power specifically. p < . 182) = 45.33 (Cohen. we examine the specific influence of these two sociolinguistic variables on the misinformation effect. Confidence estimations Confidence overall. They were more confident that their responses to misled items were correct than they were about their responses to control items. F < 1. however. information that we did not or could not measure.
F < 1. F(1. power and social attractiveness affected their confidence in the same way that it affected their accuracy. p = . we used median splits to classify subjects into high and low groups for each type of rating (power Md = 3. F(1. Attitudes and misinformation We looked at whether subjects' performance on misled items was different for high or low power and social attractiveness ratings. Confidence when wrong. The independent variables were power group (high or low).43.37. The interaction between power and social attractiveness for subjects' confidence when misled and incorrect. F < 1. and this information was strong enough to influence the misinformation effect. social attractiveness group (high or low). DISCUSSION Our main research question was whether the subtle sociolinguistic information conveyed by accent had an influence on the misinformation Figure 4. when the speaker was rated low on power. F(1.31.01. when subjects rated the speaker low on power. social attractiveness Md = 4. First. .38. p < . Figure 4 shows that the pattern of results is similar to that of the misinformation effect: when the speaker was rated high on power. social attractiveness ratings did not matter: subjects were equally misled whether they rated the speaker high or low on social attractiveness. confidence was higher for speakers who were rated high on social attractiveness than low on social attractiveness. Subjects' confidence when they were misled and wrong was related to both power and social attractiveness ratings. However. Confidence was not related to the power and social attractiveness ratings of the speaker: subjects were equally confident in their answers whether they listened to speakers with high or low ratings. F(1.106 VORNIK. we performed an ANOVA. Higher lines represent subjects who were more misled. a small to medium-sized effect of 0. 68) = 4. GARRY speaker. Subjects' control performance was a significant covariate. This interaction between power and social attractiveness was significant. 68) = 5. 68) = 6. 68) = 5. In short. The covariate was subjects' performance on control items (number correct out of a total of four).04. To determine whether power and social attractiveness ratings influenced subjects' confidence overall. p = . In short. p < .02.2 Next we ran a 2 6 2 analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). The significant interaction between power group and social attractiveness group is displayed in Figure 3. Figure 3. SHARMAN. confidence was similar for speakers who were rated high on social attractiveness and low on social attractiveness.14. social attractiveness ratings did matter: subjects who also rated the speaker high on social attractiveness were more misled than subjects who gave a lower rating. Figure 3 shows when subjects rated the speaker highly on power.75. Attitudes and confidence Confidence overall.02. and the power 6 social attractiveness interaction.14). when subjects ``bought'' the misleading suggestion. However.03. accent was a vehicle for information about the power and social attractiveness of the 2 Eight subjects gave ratings on the median so their data were removed from this analysis. the effect size was a negligible 0. The interaction between power and social attractiveness for subjects' performance on misled items.
In our study. & McCarthy. one aspect of our results does not square with the SMF. However. and errors are more likely to decrease as PEI becomes more discriminable or distinctive. errors in recall may be due to sourcemonitoring confusions. and the influence of misinformation may depend not only on the content of the message itself. However. Why were accents alone not influential enough to change susceptibility to misleading suggestions? One possible explanation is that accents carry additional information that in turn influences power and social attractiveness (Bayard. which should lead to a reduction in the misinformation effect. Dodd & Bradshaw. In this framework. Lindsay. The results support a qualified yes: accents per se did not have an influence on the misinformation effect.. our findings are consistent with earlier work showing that both the semantic content of the message and its social content should be considered when assessing its potential influence on eyewitnesses (Ceci et al. 1987. Although subjects rated NA accents higher on power and social attractiveness. Thus. Therefore. 1990. Second. By Lindsay's definition. de Leonardis. & Johnson. and incorporate it into their reports with high confidence. 1995. Meade. social attractiveness did matter: they were more misled by speakers rated high on social attractiveness. Lindsay. We found the same pattern of results for confidence estimations when subjects committed to the misleading suggestion. but sociolinguistic factors did. The source-monitoring framework (SMF) (Johnson. First. According to Lindsay. These results may suggest that the discriminability of a source alone does not predict whether or not subjects will be misled. Finally. it is possible that other factors associated with the speaker influenced ratings of her power and social attractiveness in such a way as to counteract them. Roediger. these studies show that the SMF can account for social influences on memory distortions. rather. Lampinen & Smith. we found no reduction in the misinformation effect when subjects heard PEI in a NA accent. Although we did not include a direct test of source monitoring. but they are unlikely to remember that the information came from the speaker. Other research investigating social influences on memory distortions have put forth SMF-based explanations. Overall. subjects experience a sourcemonitoring failure and attribute misleading PEI to the event. When subjects rated the speaker low on power. Gordon & Abell. 1989). we did find that power and social attractiveness work together to affect susceptibility to misleading suggestions. or from some kind of demand-based misinformation acceptance (see Belli. However. we did not include a sourcemonitoring measure in our experiment. Sherman and Bessenoff (1999) showed that when their ability to engage in deliberate source monitoring was compromised. accents alone were not good proxies for either kind of sociolinguistic information. when in fact it had been given to them by another person. as we noted previously. Gales. 1991. Multhaup. being presented with a postevent narrative in a NA accent in New Zealand almost certainly constitutes a high-discriminability condition compared to the local NZ accent condition. 1990). Hashtroudi. the social information that the source carries also plays a role. 1980. but on the context in which the message is delivered. subjects may evaluate postevent messages as a whole. Roediger et al. & Lindsay. or with the source misattribution explanation of misinformation effects proposed by Lindsay (1990). we have shown that social content does not necessarily have to be made explicit to influence susceptibility to misleading suggestions. 1994. We used the standard . we might draw two broad conclusions. a NA accent should make it easier for subjects to discriminate between original information and PEI. and Bergman (2001) found that subjects were more likely to report schema-consistent but incorrect information if it had been suggested by a confederate. subjects mistakenly attributed information about people in line with stereotypes. social attractiveness did not matter: they were equally misled by speakers rated high and low on social attractiveness.SOCIOLINGUISTIC CUES AND MISINFORMATION 107 effect. 1999). and so this conclusion should be seen as tentative. argue that subjects confused the source of this false information. For instance. Therefore. In another study. 1995). 1993) offers one of the best accounts of the misinformation effect (Belli. Interestingly. When subjects rated the speaker high on power. we do not know whether the misinformation effects we have found come as a result of a genuine memory-source confusions. How should we make sense of these social influences on memory distortion and confidence judgements? Dodd and Bradshaw (1980) argued that social connotations are attached to the message and processed simultaneously with the message. believing they had seen it themselves. the SMF may account for our results as well: subjects may be more likely to remember what the powerful and socially attractive speaker told them.
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