Effect of Accent Familiarity on Language Processing via Alpha and Beta Brain Wave Activity

Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia 24153

Language is one of the defining characteristics of human social interactions and, as such, has been a main focus of scientific research over the years. Human speech is widely varied with multiple different languages and further diversified by the presence of accents. The current study was designed to test the effects of familiarity of geographically diverse accents on the amplitudes of relaxed, i.e., alpha (~10 Hz), and alert, i.e., beta (~20 Hz), brain waves. It was expected that accents that were easier to understand, or more familiar, would present with more alpha wave activation, demonstrating a more relaxed state due to easier understanding, while accents that were harder to understand, or less familiar, would present with more beta wave activation, demonstrating a more alert state due to increased focus necessary for speech comprehension. Alpha and beta wave activation was measured by placing electrodes on the scalp to record the differences across several areas on the surface of the brain and presenting clips of varying accents in spoken English to the participants. Beta waves recorded showed no significant difference between any of the groups in the study. However, alpha waves showed multiple different significant results: the amplitudes showed an overall decrease as the location associated with the speaker’s accent increased in geographical distance from the testing location, and there was an interaction between location and familiarity to foreign accents. These results suggest that more foreign accents do have an effect on the amplitudes of alpha waves and that there is some connection between experience with foreign accents and these effects.

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