Research in Brief: People Who ‘Sound‘ Tall … Probably Are Voices can reveal a lot about speakers: age, gender and now—it seems—height as well. A new study found that listeners can accurately determine the relative heights of speakers just by listening to them talk. The key clue may be contained in a particular type of sound produced in the lower ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   February 01, 2014
Research in Brief: People Who ‘Sound‘ Tall … Probably Are
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Professional Issues & Training / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   February 01, 2014
Research in Brief: People Who ‘Sound‘ Tall … Probably Are
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19022014.16
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19022014.16
Voices can reveal a lot about speakers: age, gender and now—it seems—height as well. A new study found that listeners can accurately determine the relative heights of speakers just by listening to them talk. The key clue may be contained in a particular type of sound produced in the lower airways of the lungs, known as a subglottal resonance.
John Morton, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, presented the study at the 166th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America on Dec. 3 in San Francisco.
“The best way to think about subglottal resonances is to imagine blowing into a glass bottle partially full with liquid: the less liquid in the bottle, the lower the sound,” Morton explained. The frequency of the subglottal resonance differs depending on the height of the person generating it, with resonances becoming progressively lower as height increases.
Morton and his colleagues hypothesized that listeners can hear this difference, and tested this theory through two sets of experiments. In the first, 25 pairs of same-sex “talkers” of different heights (25 male, 25 female) were recorded as they read identical sentences. Later, researchers played the recordings to 24 listeners (ages 18–27; eight male, 16 female) who guessed which of the two speakers was taller. In the second experiment, listeners heard five same-gender talkers read and then ranked them from tallest to shortest.
Participants were able to accurately discriminate the taller speaker more than 62 percent of the time, which is significantly more often than they would by chance alone. “Both males and females were equally able to discriminate and rank the heights of talkers” of both genders, Morton said.
The research, Morton says, has criminal justice implications. “One would certainly like to know if, when an ‘ear witness,’ as they are often called, says that a talker’s voice seemed ‘tall’ or ‘large,’ this information can be trusted. The answer seems to be yes.”
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February 2014
Volume 19, Issue 2