Social Perception of the Human Voice: Perceiver Attunement to the Vocal Specification of Speaker Physical Characteristics.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The human voice is a common and important part of the social environment. In addition to being the primary carrier of language, there is growing evidence that the sound of a person’s voice contains a great deal of socially relevant information. Drawing on a functional approach to perception, the current research investigated the attunement of social perceivers to the vocal specification of speaker physical properties. An initial study developed a set of vocal samples for use in subsequent perceptual studies, and conducted exploratory analyses investigating relationships between speaker vocal and physical characteristics. Significant differences in the acoustic properties of male and female voices were identified, but the relationships between acoustic properties and speaker age, body size, and body configuration were less robust. Study 2 investigated the ability of listeners to accurately perceive the physical characteristics of speakers from vocal information. Perceivers made assessments of speaker physical characteristics that were highly consensual and that accurately reflected speaker sex, age, and body size. Studies 3 and 4 investigated perceiver judgments of vocal attractiveness. In Study 3, both male and female perceivers rated the voices of male speakers with lower indices of body asymmetry (a marker of genotypic and phenotypic condition) as more attractive. However, for female perceivers it was shown that this relationship is influenced by changes in fertility levels associated with the menstrual cycle. At times of high fertility female perceivers displayed a stronger attraction to the voices of male speakers with low asymmetry than they did at times of low fertility. This finding was interpreted as a functional shift increasing attraction to males possessing phenotypic markers of high fitness when the likelihood of conception is highest. Study 4 considered the effects of menstrual cycle variation on the voices of female speakers. Both male and female perceivers rated female voices recorded during a phase of high fertility to be more attractive than the same voices recorded during a phase of low fertility. This finding extends previous research demonstrating cyclic shifts in visual and olfactory attractiveness to the auditory domain, and is discussed in terms of the vocal specificity of female fertility status. Study 5 extended the previous studies by considering how vocal cues specifying the sex and age of a social target interact with visual cues to influence social perception. Relative to concordant voice and face information, discordant information was found to facilitate social memory. This finding is discussed with regards to the integration of multiple sources of information in social perception. The results of all studies are discussed in terms of the adaptive significance of perceivers accurately detecting the physical characteristics of others that are specified vocally.