Perceptual Differentiation of African American and European American Children

Student Author(s)

Emily Simmons
Dalila Salas

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown

Document Type


Event Date



Previous research presented by Thomas and Reaser (2004) has demonstrated that adult speakers can be perceptually differentiated by listeners with respect to gender and ethnicity. Their study presented data from various studies with respect to adult speakers; however none were presented for children. The goal of our research is to examine how age, gender and ethnicity of child speakers ages 8-12 affect the perceptual accuracy of adult listeners. Following the onset of puberty, these acoustic parameters begin to emerge, enabling listeners to reliably identify speaker characteristics in adulthood (Berger, 2008). The question remains, at what point across the pubertal transition does perceptual accuracy meet the level for adult speakers? Undergraduate college students listened to audio recordings of European American and African American children producing words and sentences containing /h-vowel-d/ target stimuli in General American English. Each block contained items spoken by children of each ethnicity, age, and gender. The listeners identified which ethnicity and gender they believed the speaker to be, as well as how confident they were of their choice. We expect greater accuracy, faster reaction times, and higher median ratings for forward blocks, sentences, and female speakers. We do not expect there to be a difference in identification of European American voices versus African American voices. We also anticipate that accuracy of identification will improve as the age of the speaker increases due to the changing of the voice as a result of puberty. The study will provide greater knowledge of how the age of a child speaker impacts the ability of the listener to identify the speaker’s gender and ethnicity. The implications of this data can be extended as a framework for individuals who work with children and in speech-related professions to reduce biases that occur as a result of personal language experience.


This research was supported by the Frost Research Center at Hope College.

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