Speaker Sex Perception from Spontaneous and Volitional Nonverbal Vocalizations

Nadine Lavan, Abigail Domone, Betty Fisher, Noa Kenigsztein, Sophie K Scott, Carolyn McGettigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In two experiments we explore how speaker sex recognition is affected by vocal flexibility, introduced by volitional and spontaneous vocalizations. In Experiment 1, participants judged speaker sex from two spontaneous vocalizations, laughter and crying, and volitionally produced vowels. Striking effects of speaker sex emerged: For male vocalizations, listeners' performance was significantly impaired for spontaneous vocalizations (laughter and crying) compared to a volitional baseline (repeated vowels), a pattern that was also reflected in longer reaction times for spontaneous vocalizations. Further, performance was less accurate for laughter than crying. For female vocalizations, a different pattern emerged. In Experiment 2, we largely replicated the findings of Experiment 1 using spontaneous laughter, volitional laughter and (volitional) vowels: here, performance for male vocalizations was impaired for spontaneous laughter compared to both volitional laughter and vowels, providing further evidence that differences in volitional control over vocal production may modulate our ability to accurately perceive speaker sex from vocal signals. For both experiments, acoustic analyses showed relationships between stimulus fundamental frequency (F0) and the participants' responses. The higher the F0 of a vocal signal, the more likely listeners were to perceive a vocalization as being produced by a female speaker, an effect that was more pronounced for vocalizations produced by males. We discuss the results in terms of the availability of salient acoustic cues across different vocalizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date20 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

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