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Title: Evolutionary and Cognitive Approaches to Voice Perception in Humans: Acoustic Properties, Personality and Aesthetics
Authors: Knowles, Kristen
Supervisor(s): Little, Anthony
Keywords: voice
voice pitch
evolutionary psychology
formant frequencies
pitch variation
Issue Date: 24-Oct-2014
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Voices are used as a vehicle for language, and variation in the acoustic properties of voices also contains information about the speaker. Listeners use measurable qualities, such as pitch and formant traits, as cues to a speaker’s physical stature and attractiveness. Emotional states and personality characteristics are also judged from vocal stimuli. The research contained in this thesis examines vocal masculinity, aesthetics and personality, with an emphasis on the perception of prosocial traits including trustworthiness and cooperativeness. I will also explore themes which are more cognitive in nature, testing aspects of vocal stimuli which may affect trait attribution, memory and the ascription of identity. Chapters 2 and 3 explore systematic differences across vocal utterances, both in types of utterance using different classes of stimuli and across the time course of perception of the auditory signal. These chapters examine variation in acoustic measurements in addition to variation in listener attributions of commonly-judged speaker traits. The most important result from this work was that evaluations of attractiveness made using spontaneous speech correlated with those made using scripted speech recordings, but did not correlate with those made of the same persons using vowel stimuli. This calls into question the use of sustained vowel sounds for the attainment of ratings of subjective characteristics. Vowel and single-word stimuli are also quite short – while I found that attributions of masculinity were reliable at very short exposure times, more subjective traits like attractiveness and trustworthiness require a longer exposure time to elicit reliable attributions. I conclude with recommending an exposure time of at least 5 seconds in duration for such traits to be reliably assessed. Chapter 4 examines what vocal traits affect perceptions of pro-social qualities using both natural and manipulated variation in voices. While feminine pitch traits (F0 and F0-SD) were linked to cooperativeness ratings, masculine formant traits (Df and Pf) were also associated with cooperativeness. The relative importance of these traits as social signals is discussed. Chapter 5 questions what makes a voice memorable, and helps to differentiate between memory for individual voice identities and for the content which was spoken by administering recognition tests both within and across sensory modalities. While the data suggest that experimental manipulation of voice pitch did not influence memory for vocalised stimuli, attractive male voices were better remembered than unattractive voices, independent of pitch manipulation. Memory for cross-modal (textual) content was enhanced by raising the voice pitch of both male and female speakers. I link this pattern of results to the perceived dominance of voices which have been raised and lowered in pitch, and how this might impact how memories are formed and retained. Chapter 6 examines masculinity across visual and auditory sensory modalities using a cross-modal matching task. While participants were able to match voices to muted videos of both male and female speakers at rates above chance, and to static face images of men (but not women), differences in masculinity did not influence observers in their judgements, and voice and face masculinity were not correlated. These results are discussed in terms of the generally-accepted theory that masculinity and femininity in faces and voices communicate the same underlying genetic quality. The biological mechanisms by which vocal and facial masculinity could develop independently are speculated.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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