How many voices did you hear? Natural variability disrupts identity perception from unfamiliar voices

Nadine Lavan, Luke FK Burston, L Garrido

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Our voices sound different depending on the context (laughing vs. talking to a child vs. giving a speech), making within-person variability an inherent feature of human voices. When perceiving speaker identities, listeners therefore need to not only "tell people apart" (perceiving exemplars from two different speakers as separate identities) but also "tell people together" (perceiving different exemplars from the same speaker as a single identity). In the current study, we investigated how such natural within-person variability affects voice identity perception. Using voices from a popular TV show, listeners, who were either familiar or unfamiliar with this show, sorted naturally-varying voice clips from two speakers into clusters to represent perceived identities. Across three independent participant samples, unfamiliar listeners perceived more identities than familiar listeners and frequently mistook exemplars from the same speaker to be different identities. These findings point towards a selective failure in "telling people together". Our study highlights within-person variability as a key feature of voices that has striking effects on (unfamiliar) voice identity perception. Our findings not only open up a new line of enquiry in the field of voice perception but also call for a re-evaluation of theoretical models to account for natural variability during identity perception.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Early online date16 Sept 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sept 2018

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