1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role as a Lecturer in the Department of Psychology?
I joined Royal Holloway in September 2017 after working and studying in quite a few countries (The Netherlands, France, US, Israel). My research focuses on language, but from a social perspective, so I teach on both Cognitive and Social Psychology modules and most of my lectures show the interplay between the two. I also serve as a deputy lead for the PGR programme, and I try to use my role to help students acquire skills that would serve them later in their career and increase their use of open science practices.
2. What are your main research interests?
I study language from a social network perspective. I examine how the characteristics of individuals’ real-life social networks (e.g., their size, their inter-connectivity) influence how good they are at communicating with others. I also look at this question at the community level and investigate how the structure of the community influences the type of language the community develops. For example, I find that larger communities create languages with more systematic grammars and words whose meaning is easier to guess, because larger communities need to have a language that is easier to learn and use.
3. You recently published a new study in Cognitive Science that shows people are more likely to believe information given to them by a native speaker rather than those with a foreign accent, but that this bias can be reduced. What inspired you to investigate this subject?
One of my lines of research looks at interactions between native and non-native speakers. I was aware of research that shows that we tend to doubt information that we find harder to process. This made me think of the consequences for non-native speakers, because we know that it is harder to process the speech of non-native speakers, so this research suggests that even people who are not prejudiced against non-native speakers might trust them less just because they find it harder to understand them. Unfortunately, this is what we found. At the same time, we also know that exposure can help people understand foreign-accented speech better, so we wanted to see if we can reduce bias against non-native speakers by exposing them to accent and thus make it easier for them to understand the accent. We found that exposure indeed reduced the bias, even if it was far from eliminating it. We find it encouraging because it can have clear policy implications and suggest that increasing diversity can be beneficial for multiple reasons.
4. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway?
The Psychology department is very friendly and collegial. People are always happy to help each other – from joining forces to stage a Panto for the students to helping each other with organising workshops or contributing to training sessions.
5. How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
As a researcher of language it might not be surprising that I love reading and learning languages. I also greatly enjoy traveling - in a sense, I am still a tourist here. Other than that, I enjoy art, in particular sculpture, photography, and contemporary dance.