Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Listeners use more than just acoustic information when processing speech. Social information, such as a speaker’s race/ethnicity, can also affect listeners’ understanding of the speech signal. In some cases, these social primes can facilitate perception, while in others they may inhibit perception. Indeed, a picture of an East Asian face has been shown to facilitate the perception of Mandarin Chinese-accented English but interfere with the perception of American-accented English. The present dissertation builds on this line of inquiry, addressing novel topics including the generalizability and specificity of social priming effects, their relationship with implicit racial/ethnic associations, and their role in perceptual adaptation to nonnative-accented speech. In four online experiments, we examined the effect of visual race/ethnicity guises on transcription accuracy for native-accented and nonnative-accented speech (presented in background noise). Results of these experiments were mixed. Our first experiment successfully replicated prior work, demonstrating that an East Asian prime can facilitate perception of Mandarin-accented English speech. However, despite our attempt to assure sufficient power via large sample sizes, in all subsequent experiments we did not find effects of social primes on speech transcription accuracy or perceptual adaptation. Notably, our null outcomes have one positive implication: Minority race/ethnicity speakers with native-accented English speech may not be at a perceptual disadvantage as compared to White speakers (as indicated by prior work). Ultimately, further examination of social priming is needed to determine whether the mixed findings of the current work may reflect a small or a context-dependent effect. We suggest that by including in-depth analyses of subjects’ social networks (i.e., to determine their exposure to racial/ethnic diversity and relevant accent varieties), future investigations will be able to assess individual differences in susceptibility to social priming effects.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Kristin J. Van Engen

Committee Members

John Baugh