Tiny changes in the brain occur when we speak to people from different social backgrounds, scientists have discovered
Putting on a posh telephone voice or speaking ‘Estuary English’ has long been a source of ridicule in Britain’s class obsessed society.
But now a new scientific study has suggested that changing the way we talk when interacting with people from a different social class may be something that is out of our control.
Researchers who monitored brain function among people from a wide range of backgrounds found that subjects undergo clear neurological changes depending on who they are speaking to.
Scientists at University College London, working in conjunction with colleagues at Yale University in the United States, succeeded in identifying important changes in the part of the brain that deals with speech and language.
Increases in activity in the left frontal lobe, are thought to have developed in order to help humans identify and overcome bias and prejudice when communicating.
It means that people with strong regional or working class accents have a tendency to speak more correctly when in mixed company, while members of the upper classes are more likely to tone down their accents when talking to those from a different background.
The study, which is published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, used 39 pairs of volunteers from a wide range of social backgrounds.
They were asked to talk to one another on a range of subjects, while headsets monitored brain activity by tracking blood flow and oxygenation to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
The neurological shifts in this part of the brain are thought to help humans overcome linguistic and social barriers and help us regulate our behaviour in different settings.
Professor Joy Hirsch, of University College London, who co-authored the report said: “For the first time, we have identified the neural mechanisms involved in social interactions between people of different backgrounds.”
She added: “I believe our findings offer a hopeful message. We know that humans can have positive social encounters with others who are different.
“Now we have the neurobiological basis – our brains have apparently developed a frontal lobe system that helps us deal with diversity.”
Lead author Olivia Descorbeth, from Yale University, said: “We wanted to know if the brain responded differently when we talked to others of a different socioeconomic background.
“Now we know that it does and that humans have a neurobiology that helps us navigate social differences.”
The scientists used a new technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy, which meant subjects were able to simply wear unobtrusive headsets.
Previous studies involved MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans which required patients to lie down and keep still, making conversation difficult.
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Neuroscience, Brain, Research
World news – GB – Scientists discovered the real reason people put on a posh phone voice