Colloquial filler and perceptions of therapist competence: the specific case of non-standard "like"

"Like" as a linguistic filler has been described as an irritant which, when used excessively, negatively impacts impressions of speakers in professional settings. The present study examined the effects of the filler "like" on perceptions of therapist competence and demographic characteristics (gender, age, and ethnicity). Each of the 159 college students were randomly assigned to a single experimental condition before reading one of four transcripts containing varying levels of filler. Participants subsequently reported their impressions of the therapist's competence and demographic characteristics. Measures included the Counselor Rating Form—Short Version and a researcher generated questionnaire. Statistically significant differences were not found to exist between conditions and greater use of "like" was not associated with the characteristics young (20s), Caucasian, or female. However, further analysis revealed a linear trend such that increasing levels of the filler resulted in decreasing ratings of the therapist's intelligence. These data suggest use of "like" as a language filler does not adversely affect perceptions of a therapist's competence but may impact impressions of intelligence. Additionally, participants exhibited a tendency to imagine the therapist as a Caucasian male regardless of condition and reported themselves as unlikely to continue in therapy when asked to imagine they were the client. Potential implications are discussed.