Author Archives: Kayleigh

When in Paris, Dress as the Parisians Do


It was in the days before coming to Paris, I was beginning the preparations of packing up my clothes for my trip. I had recently grown an affinity towards colored pants. They are just so great! Blue ones, red ones, pink ones, green ones! So many colors and so many ways to wear them! You just pair them with some neutrals, or other bright colors, and you have an outfit ready to go! I was especially excited to bring them to Paris because my mom had just gotten me a couple of new pairs, coral and blue-green.


What I want to be wearing all the time…


Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), as I was laying out my clothes to pack, my mom asked “Are you sure you want to take those? They don’t really wear colored pants over there.”

“But mom… they are my favorite… It doesn’t really matter all that much.”

“I don’t know Kayleigh, the guide says that you should try to fit. That way you won’t be a target and they will be friendlier to you.”

“So what color clothing should I wear then?”

“Black… and sometimes very, very dark gray.”Batman-Pintrest

Okay so she didn’t actually say that last line, it’s actually a line from The Lego Movie (great movie by the way!). But what she said did have some merit to it. When you look like the group members and act like the group members, then usually they accept you more, right?

Young Girl Old Woman Pinterest

Old Woman, Young Lady Illusion from Pinterest

An article written by Stallen et al. addresses the neurology behind this desire to fit in and be part of a group. The experiment was designed to look at in-group influence, taking the tastes of others to show that you belong to a specific group. The researchers took 24 healthy, right-handed individuals (12 female, 12 male) and upon arrival to the testing site showed them 5 perceptual illusions. (You’ve probably seen this type of image before. These are images like the young-girl old-woman picture). The participants then had to choose which image they saw, either the old-woman or young-girl. Based on their answer they were then rated as either a foreground perceiver or a background perceiver. However, these terms meant absolutely nothing, because everyone was put into the foreground perceiver group. This was done to make sure that they had groups without the occurrence of bias.

Set up of the experiment

Experimental Design from Stallen et al.

Anyways, the participants were then put into the fMRI machine and the real decision making experiment began. The participants looked at a screen, and on the screen a flash of dots would appear briefly. The number could be as little as 5 dots (easy) or as many at 30 dots (hard). After the participants saw the dots, they estimated the number they thought that they saw in their heads. Now this is where it gets tricky (literally and figuratively!). In order to mislead the participants into in-group thinking, a computer generated answer was shown on the screen from either an “in-group” member, an “out-group” member or an unclassified member. Now keep in mind that these “answers” were computer generated, none of them actually came from another person, but the participant thought that they did.

After the flash of the fake guesses, the participant had to insert his/her choice of how many dots there were into the machine. At the end, they were asked a series of questions about their connection, trust, and positivity towards the different groups, the in-group, out-group and unclassified.

Pics of those reions mentioned

Brain Images from Stallen et al.

Overall, the results showed increased activity of the right caudate subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, right hippocampus and the intersection of the right posterior insula and the posterior superior temporal sulcus in in-group members. Now, I know what you all are thinking… I know exactly what those regions do, and I completely understand the relationship between them and in-group mentality. But just to make sure that I understand it, I’ll explain it to you. You know, just to make sure I get it.


Me fitting in… literally and figuratively. Photo Credit to Kimi Chan.

Activation of these areas led to more positive associations and greater trust with in-group members than out-group or unclassified members. When shown fake responses from out-group or unclassified members, the participants were less likely tocopy the answers as compared to the in-group responses. In general, people tend to have a positive experience with social inclusion and acceptance, and so, in turn, in-group members receive a positive effect and reward from being included.

This article was really great because it not only showed the behavioral aspects of in-group thinking, but the neurological aspects as well. It led me to pose the question as to why I was so afraid of standing out, besides the fact that it would make pickpockets easier to target me. I adjusted my whole wardrobe to include things that I never usually wear, just so I could blend in a bit more. It’s all about that group mentality man.. FIGHT THE POWER!


… What I’m actually wearing all the time. Cute, but not summer wear… it needs more color 🙁

However, in all seriousness, it’s nice that I brought clothes to fit in. It’s nice not to be immediately identified as a foreigner. That is until I open my mouth, then it’s all downhill from there (please refer to my previous blog post). But for the most part I tend to fit in as Parisian, people talk to me in French, as me directions in French, ask for help with the turnstiles in the subway in French… I think I did too much of a good job at blending in. But as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Or shall I say, when in Paris, dress and the Parisians do!

Stallen, M., Smidts, A., & Sanfey, A. G. (2013). Peer influence: neural            mechanisms underlying in-group conformity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience7.

Batman was from Pinterest. The caption ruined the picture.

Pardon My French… But Why Can’t You Understand Me?

“Mom! They offer French here! I want to take French!”

These were some of the first words I told my mom after we moved from California to Georgia when I was in 8th grade. Finally, after all this time, I was going to be able to learn the language I’d always wanted. I’m part French!1433006447999

It’s part of my blood! I was going to learn the language of my people, until I told my mom   the grand plan.

“No Kayleigh, Spanish will be more practical in America, especially if you want to become a doctor.”

Well, there goes my dream of becoming fluent in the language of my people. And so, I proceeded to take Spanish, for 5 years. Hooray for proficiency!

Now that I’m in Paris, with little to no experience in speaking French. (Oh mom, why did you not let me learn?), I tend to think back on this time in my life. As I travel around the city, trying to learn new words and phrases, it becomes increasingly apparent that when I speak the little French I do know, nobody understands me. I would think, since I’m pronouncing the words just like the native Parisians, that they would understand me perfectly. Although, maybe it’s possible… could it be that I have an accent? Is my accent so thick that they cannot understand that when I say “poulet et fromage” I mean chicken and cheese? Now that I think about it, that’s probably why they proceed to giggle at my attempts at French and then start to speak to me in English.

I can’t blame them though. Going from your home country to a completely different place, with an entirely different language, causes some people to forget that when speaking another language, they too have an accent. Yet, it is so hard for native speakers of a language to comprehend non-native speakers, even when said non-native speaker has had practice in enunciating the accent.

A 2015 study done by Romero-Rivas et al. attempts to answer this question. “Processing changes when listening to foreign accented speech,” focused on two main issues about processing language from a non-native speaker: first, whether fast adaptation in the brain occur at the acoustic and/or lexical level during speech comprehension and whether semantic processing in the brain is affected after listeners have gotten better at comprehending foreign accented speech.


Accent Strength

Figure 1 from Romero-Rivas et al. 2015 showing rating on a scale of 1 to 5 of accent strength



So the set up for the experiment went a little something like this, the researchers recruited 20 native Spanish speakers (I guess my mom was right!), 12 women and 8 men, with the majority being from Catalonia, Spain. This was done so that the majority of them spoke in the same dialect. Each person had 208 sentences played to them from both native Spanish speakers, and non-native Spanish speakers. The non-native Spanish speakers were native speakers of Greek, Japanese, Italian and  French. Each sentence was repeated 4 times, a standard sentence spoken by a native Spanish speaker, a standard sentence spoken by a non-native Spanish speaker, a sentence with a semantic error spoken by a native Spanish speaker and a sentence with a semantic error spoken by a non-native speaker. This semantic error is a mix up in the meaning of the words in the sentence. These sentences were recorded by the non-native speakers and played back to the native Spanish speaking participants, at will and in a soundproof room (Romero-Rivas et al. 2015)

I guess this whole set up is kind of similar to my struggles here in Paris. I mean, I’m pretty sure I sometimes mix up some Spanish in my French, add some SIs when there should be some OUIs. Maybe say poulet Y fromage instead of poulet ET fromage. There are those semantic errors.

Grand average ERPs from EEg

Figure 2 from Romero-Rivas et al. 2015 showing EEG spiking

Anyway, neural recordings were taken by an electroencephalogram or EEG for short. Just imagine the spiking you see from a EKG on television. You know the one when the person is in the hospital and the machine is going *beep, beep* and the little spikes show the heart beating. Now imagine that same concept, but for the brain. They measured three types of spikes associated with neuronal language processing, P200, N400 and P600(Romero-Rivas et al. 2015). These recordings allowed for more in depth analysis of what was really going on when native speakers had to listen to foreign accents over a brief period of time.

After all of that testing, EEG reading and analyzing, the experimenters were finally able to come to certain conclusions about why French people can’t understand me when I speak! I mean why it’s harder to understand non-native speakers. The experimenters found that listeners do not improve at discerning phonetic/acoustic parts of foreign-accented speech after short term (25 minutes) exposure to it. However, information from native speaker’s internal lexicon (basically a dictionary for your brain), allows listeners to recognize and retune phonetic and acoustic variations into familiar vocabulary, making it possible for the listeners to improve at recognizing, retrieving and integrating the incoming foreign-accented speech. As for semantic violations, those were easier to process for native Spanish speakers as compared to non-native Spanish speakers. There is a type of reorganizer in the brain that adjusts for those violations from native speakers but not from non-native speakers (Romero-Rivas et al. 2015).

2015-06-08_23.23.28           Now it makes complete sense as to why when I go and order my Prince Street bagel sandwich with my exotique fruit smoothie, they don’t understand me. It’s harder for them to process the information that is coming out of my mouth because they are not exposed to English speakers often enough to process the accent fast enough. Not only that, but my accent is most likely thicker than those tested since I have little to no experience with French at all. Even when I say orange, which is exactly the same in English and in French (go ahead, look it up), the Parisians still don’t get it. To be fair, this is probably also due to the fact that I tend to speak in a Spanish accent when I speak foreign languages. It’s the only accent I know, so I can’t help it. I try French accents, but they just don’t come out right. I’m learning though, so that counts for something right? Maybe one day they will finally be able to understand my French.



Works Cited

Romero-Rivas C, Martin CD, Costa A. Processing changes when listening to foreign-accented     speech. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2015;9:167. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00167.

Map of Catalonia:          independence-vote/