Impaired generalization of speaker identity in the perception of familiar and unfamiliar voices

Nadine Lavan, Sophie K. Scott, Carolyn McGettigan

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In two behavioural experiments, we explored how the extraction of identity-related information from familiar and unfamiliar voices is affected by naturally occurring vocal flexibility and variability, introduced by different types of vocalizations and levels of volitional control during production. In a first experiment, participants performed a speaker discrimination task on vowels, volitional (acted) laughter, and spontaneous (authentic) laughter from 5 unfamiliar speakers. We found that performance was significantly impaired for spontaneous laughter, a vocalization produced under reduced volitional control. We additionally found that the detection of identity-related information fails to generalize across different types of nonverbal vocalizations (e.g. laughter versus vowels) and across mismatches in volitional control within vocalization pairs (e.g. volitional laughter versus spontaneous laughter), with performance levels indicating an inability to discriminate between speakers. In a second experiment, we explored whether personal familiarity with the speakers would afford greater accuracy and better generalization of identity perception. Using new stimuli, we largely replicated our previous findings: while familiarity afforded a consistent performance advantage for speaker discriminations, the experimental manipulations impaired performance to similar extents for familiar and unfamiliar listener groups. We discuss our findings with reference to prototype-based models of voice processing and suggest potential underlying mechanisms and representations of familiar and unfamiliar voice perception.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1604-1614
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number12
Early online date15 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016

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