Working class accent seen as sign of being ‘less intelligent’, study finds

Working class people are judged 14 per cent less intelligent simply because of their accent, a study has revealed.

They are also rated four per cent less friendly and five per cent less trustworthy, according to research which asked participants to rate people on a sliding scale based solely on how they spoke.

People from Essex were judged on average 11 per cent less intelligent than those from south-west London. And women were evaluated as being two per cent less intelligent than men but five per cent more friendly and trustworthy than men.

The research by Dr Amanda Cole, an Essex University academic and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Analytics and Data Science – tested the link between the way we speak and perceptions of class on nearly 200 people.

The participants, aged between 18 and 33, were played 10-second audio clips of other young people reading the same sentence. The clips were of more than 100 people from across London and the South East without being told anything about their background. 

Extreme differences found just miles apart

Both the speakers and respondents had each been asked to self-rate their class as “lower-working,” “upper-working,” “lower-middle,” “upper-middle,” or “upper”, while researchers also collected data about age, gender and where they lived.

The most extreme differences were illustrated by two white female speakers from Essex who lived just 1.5 miles apart. They received mean perceived intelligence scores of 70 per cent and 29 per cent.

The former lives in an affluent area, attended a fee-paying school, is university educated, and identified herself as lower-middle class. The latter is from a council estate, attended state school, did not attain any further education and identified herself as lower-working class.

Those who considered themselves to be lower-working class judged the higher classes as more intelligent and as speaking more correctly. 

Lower working-class respondents evaluated other lower-working class speakers on average as 48.2 per cent intelligent, compared to their judgement of upper-middle class speakers as 63.3 per cent intelligent.

‘Deeply unfair’ assumptions

Dr Cole said: “This is deeply unfair. When some people speak, regardless of the clarity or weight of their words, they are seen as less intelligent, friendly or trustworthy than other people. 

“Accent bias is a mirror of societal biases. It is propping up class prejudice, racial inequality, gender stereotypes and cliched ideas of people from certain areas.

“In Britain, many people still subscribe to the mindset that a few limited ways of speaking English (such as the ‘Queen’s English’, which is at the extreme) are legitimate and correct while others aren’t. 

“Even if many regional dialects are considered quaint or fun, they are also often judged to be a rejection or rebellion against ‘correct’ English or a reflection of poor education.”

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