INT136PA Project Phase II Progress Report

1. Introduction

1.1 Introduction: 

Due to Covid-19, those living in the United States have been required to wear a facial covering for most activities. This has become a continued norm in our society. We wondered how this influenced communication in society, specifically focusing on how those with accents that are non-California American accents are affected. How has this impacted those who are living in a city where their native language is not spoken? Do they use more gestures and eye-contact during speech to clarify their speech? Do they ‘Americanize’ their accents to be better understood? To summarize, how does a facial covering change their behaviors when it comes to communication? 

Another interesting question brought up is how those without the accent change their speech and listening behaviors for those with an accent. How has the interaction between the two communicators been influenced? Would they be more likely to ask more clarifying questions? Do they move closer towards the person with an accent to better hear them? Or when they are speaking with somebody with a different accent, do they enunciate their speech more? Do they speak slower? We are hoping to answer these questions, or shed some light on the interaction within this study.

1.2 Background

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered day to day life and communication.  Face masks used to prevent the spread of the virus have possibly hindered our previous level of interpersonal communication. Face masks take away the ability to observe facial gestures in communication, specifically the lower and middle areas of the face which play the biggest part of emotional recognition (Mheidly, 2020). Many people rely on the crucial social cues relayed through facial expressions to communicate; however, with the mask mandate, more people have been unknowingly pushed to use prolonged eye contact (Mheidly, 2020). Prolonged eye contact not only increases feelings of uncomfortableness and anxiety, but hinders emotional engagement between people (Mheidly, 2020). In narrowing down our research we focused on learning how native Mandarin speakers have been impacted by facial coverings taking away the visual facial gestures used in communication. 

Communication is already quite difficult for those with an accent. Many feel deep frustration with communicating because they aren’t being understood or perceived differently (Heblich, 2015). All throughout the internet there are an abundance of tips and tricks to both be understood as well as to be able to understand accents. In addition to this, speech pathologists offer therapy to reduce accents although wearing a facial mask has just added more difficulty. Gluszek and Dovidio found extensive research that shows that in English speaking communities there is quite the stigma around those with non-native accents. Thus, this impacts the interaction between speakers, creating a dialogue where both speakers find it difficult to come to a conceptual understanding in language exchange. In conjunction with the shift in communication due to wearing masks because of  the Covid-19 pandemic, we felt that studying masked social interactions with the additional factor of accents would be a unique test that could hopefully provide insight to our participants’ personal experiences.

1.3 Questions & Hypotheses

1.3.1 H1: California x Mandarin: We believe that the Californian participants will tailor their accent to be more easily understood by the mandarin speakers. We believe that the restriction of a facial covering will cause California participants to slow their speech and enunciate their words. Mandarin participants will also change their typical speech patterns. We expect them to also slow their speech and more carefully enunciate. With both we expect high levels of clarifying questions and/or constant repeated speech outside of normal standards. These results will exceed the ‘typical’ behavior that was shown in the baseline task.

1.3.2 H2: Mandarin x Mandarin: We expect interactions between participants who are both mandarin speakers to be similar to our baseline observations.

1.3.3 H2: California x California: We expect interactions between participants who both have Californian accents to be similar to our baseline observations.

2. Methods

2.1: Participants

Our participants focused on 3 native Californians and 3 speakers of Mandarin. Our non-native participants have not been living in the United States longer than 10 years. All participants were recruited from University of California – Santa Barbara. We can conclude that non-American Mandarin speaking participants have an adequate level of English competency since they are currently undergraduate students.

2.2 Experimental Design

Pre-Survey: Our participants will take a 5 minute online survey that asks them questions about their residency within the US. Included in our online survey, we will be asking our participants about their background with English competency and background with their native culture. This is to attain a more detailed understanding of them as a whole as well as gain a more complete overview of the differences between the cultures they come from. 

Experiment: We prepared a 10-15 minute long task for participants to complete. There will be a task done with two California accent participants outside as a pair,  2 mandarin accent participants as a pair, and one Californian accent with one mandarin speaker as a pair to get a baseline on their communication patterns without the restriction of a facial covering. We then will pair participants as such once again: Californian x Californian, Californian x Mandarin, and Mandarin x Mandarin.

The task in each scenario will be the same. They will be doing a find the difference task in which one participant will be asking each other questions about the photo to spot the difference between the two. They may not look at each other’s photos. The ordering of if they perform the baseline task or the experimental task first will be random.

Baseline task (without the facial covering – done outside):

  1. California x California
  2. Mandarin x Mandarin
  3. California x Mandarin

Experimental tasks (with facial covering): 

  1. California x California
  2. California x Mandarin
  3. California x Mandarin

2.3 Data Collection

For each experimental task we will be taking video of the participants (with consent) to evaluate their performance.We will be tracking the number of clarifying questions asked, how often they had to repeat themselves, and observing their body language and speech patterns. 

2.4 Analysis

If there are high amounts of clarifying questions and/or repetition in the experimental task compared to the baseline task, then we can confirm our hypothesis. Also, if speech patterns and pace shift once participants have a facial covering then we can confirm our hypothesis. We will be using the videos of the participants as our tool to analyze these aspects.


Initial Survey:


  • What is your citizenship?
  • How long have you lived in the United States?
  • How long have you lived in California?
  • What is your native language?
  • Do you fluently speak any other languages outside of English? If yes, which?


Experimental Task:

Outside Tasks: Find the difference task (Show pictures)

Inside Tasks: Find the difference task (Show pictures)

Post Survey:

Do you feel that wearing a facial covering makes it more difficult to be understood?

Do you feel that others are more difficult to understand with a facial covering?

Do you knowingly change your speech in any way to help facilitate communication?



Gluszek, & Dovidio, J. F. (2010). The Way They Speak: A Social Psychological Perspective on the Stigma of Nonnative Accents in

Communication. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(2), 214–237.

Heblich, S., Lameli, A., & Riener, G. (2015). The effect of perceived regional accents on  

          individual economic behavior: A lab experiment on linguistic performance, cognitive   

          ratings and economic decisions. PLOS ONE, 10(2).

Mheidly, N., Fares, M. Y., Zalzale, H., & Fares, J. (2020). Effect of face masks on interpersonal communication during the COVID-19

pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health, 8.

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