Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Social Bias and Earwitness Memory


Speech serves a linguistic function, cueing sounds and words, and a social function, cueing talkers and their social attributes. We might think that the social information cued by talkers is independent from understanding the sounds and words we say. More and more research in the past decade has found this to be false: listeners readily map sound patterns in speech to social and linguistic categories. This mapping introduces automatic social biases into the recognition of and memory for spoken words produced by different groups and individuals. In this course, we will learn about variation present in the speech signal across different speakers and speaker groups across accents, race, and gender. We will survey a small, but growing literature, showing that the ways listeners process and remember (sometimes falsely) information produced by different speakers is quite different depending on who is talking and who else might be talking in a given situation. Through the reading of accessible journal articles we will learn about the complex system of speech perception, word recognition, and memory in the context of human behavior in a social world. We will develop our own research questions building on past work, and learn the tools necessary to test these theoretically relevant questions experimentally. It is expected that the skills developed in this class will prove useful broadly as students continue their Stanford education.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Meghan Sumner

Meghan Sumner

"Hello Prospective IntroSem Students!

"I am an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics. I am passionate about my research, and passionate about getting you to think about issues that you might not yet have encountered. My research focuses on the representations and mechanisms listeners use to understand spoken language, and how linguistic and social factors affect speech perception, word recognition, and memory. My current research centers around the effects social information cued by different voices have on memory, and the role social bias has on the understanding of spoken words. I have never taught a course focused so specifically on my own research and interests, and I am extremely excited to do so! We will talk about how we as a society listen, hear, and report information, and how inextricable social biases are from basic cognitive processes such as spoken language comprehension. I can't wait!"