Voice Quality: Listener Identification of Speaker Gender and Ethnicity

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, Hope College

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Consider the phenomenon in which one hears a voice on the radio or speaks to an unknown individual on the telephone. Although unseen, we often create a mental image of the person to whom we are speaking is the person male or female, tall or short, thin or muscular? If we were to meet the person at a later point in time, we might find that our perceptions were right on target, or, conversely, off the mark. Still, the fact that we are able to create an image at all suggests that there is information available in the auditory signal that we access to perceptually interpret and identify speaker characteristics. African American and European American male and female listeners identified speaker gender and ethnicity and rated their confidence in their responses. Listener reaction time was also measured for both the identification responses and for the confidence ratings. Data were analyzed for the effects of both speaker and listener characteristics. Overall, European American male speakers were the most accurately identified and African American female speakers were the least accurately identified. Listener gender was significant for European American listeners (female listeners were more accurate) but not for African American listeners, which may suggest that ethnicity has greater salience for the African American listeners. There were significant differences for identification reaction time and for rating reaction time with respect to both speaker gender and speaker ethnicity. Significant effects were also found for the median confidence ratings across experimental conditions. These findings have implications for teachers of diverse students, linguistic profiling, telephone interviewing, forensic applications, vocal training and voice therapy, computerized or synthetic speech applications and for the fields of psycholinguistics and psychoacoustics.

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