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      The Role of Pitch and Timbre in Voice Gender Categorization

        1 , 2
      Frontiers in Psychology
      Frontiers Research Foundation
      audition, categorical perception, voice, mixture model

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          Voice gender perception can be thought of as a mixture of low-level perceptual feature extraction and higher-level cognitive processes. Although it seems apparent that voice gender perception would rely on low-level pitch analysis, many lines of research suggest that this is not the case. Indeed, voice gender perception has been shown to rely on timbre perception and to be categorical, i.e., to depend on accessing a gender model or representation. Here, we used a unique combination of acoustic stimulus manipulation and mathematical modeling of human categorization performances to determine the relative contribution of pitch and timbre to this process. Contrary to the idea that voice gender perception relies on timber only, we demonstrate that voice gender categorization can be performed using pitch only but more importantly that pitch is used only when timber information is ambiguous (i.e., for more androgynous voices).

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          Most cited references21

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          Thinking the voice: neural correlates of voice perception.

          The human voice is the carrier of speech, but also an "auditory face" that conveys important affective and identity information. Little is known about the neural bases of our abilities to perceive such paralinguistic information in voice. Results from recent neuroimaging studies suggest that the different types of vocal information could be processed in partially dissociated functional pathways, and support a neurocognitive model of voice perception largely similar to that proposed for face perception.
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            Methods of Multivariate Analysis

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              Pitch (F0) and formant profiles of human vowels and vowel-like baboon grunts: the role of vocalizer body size and voice-acoustic allometry.

              Key voice features--fundamental frequency (F0) and formant frequencies--can vary extensively between individuals. Much of the variation can be traced to differences in the size of the larynx and vocal-tract cavities, but whether these differences in turn simply reflect differences in speaker body size (i.e., neutral vocal allometry) remains unclear. Quantitative analyses were therefore undertaken to test the relationship between speaker body size and voice F0 and formant frequencies for human vowels. To test the taxonomic generality of the relationships, the same analyses were conducted on the vowel-like grunts of baboons, whose phylogenetic proximity to humans and similar vocal production biology and voice acoustic patterns recommend them for such comparative research. For adults of both species, males were larger than females and had lower mean voice F0 and formant frequencies. However, beyond this, F0 variation did not track body-size variation between the sexes in either species, nor within sexes in humans. In humans, formant variation correlated significantly with speaker height but only in males and not in females. Implications for general vocal allometry are discussed as are implications for speech origins theories, and challenges to them, related to laryngeal position and vocal tract length.

                Author and article information

                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychology
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Research Foundation
                03 February 2012
                : 3
                : 23
                [1] 1simpleBrain Research Imaging Centre, Scottish Imaging Network – A Platform for Scientific Excellence Collaboration, University of Edinburgh Edinburgh, UK
                [2] 2simpleCentre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow Glasgow, UK
                Author notes

                Edited by: David J. Freedman, University of Chicago, USA

                Reviewed by: Ricardo Gil-da-Costa, Salk Institute, USA; Aaron Seitz, University of California Riverside, USA; Shaowen Bao, University of California-Berkeley, USA

                *Correspondence: Cyril R. Pernet, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Brain Research Imaging Centre, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Crewe Road, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK. e-mail: cyril.pernet@ 123456ed.ac.uk

                This article was submitted to Frontiers in Perception Science, a specialty of Frontiers in Psychology.

                Copyright © 2012 Pernet and Belin.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

                : 27 May 2011
                : 18 January 2012
                Page count
                Figures: 8, Tables: 5, Equations: 1, References: 22, Pages: 11, Words: 6540
                Original Research

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                mixture model,voice,audition,categorical perception
                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                mixture model, voice, audition, categorical perception


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