Are men better than women at acoustic size judgements?

Charlton, Benjamin D, Taylor, Anna M and Reby, David (2013) Are men better than women at acoustic size judgements? Biology Letters, 9 (4). p. 20130270. ISSN 1744-9561

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Abstract

Formants are important phonetic elements of human speech that are also used by humans and non-human mammals to assess the body size of potential mates and rivals. As a consequence, it has been suggested that formant perception, which is crucial for speech perception, may have evolved through sexual selection. Somewhat surprisingly, though, no previous studies have examined whether sexes differ in their ability to use formants for size evaluation. Here, we investigated whether men and women differ in their ability to use the formant frequency spacing of synthetic vocal stimuli to make auditory size judgements over a wide range of fundamental frequencies (the main determinant of vocal pitch). Our results reveal that men are significantly better than women at comparing the apparent size of stimuli, and that lower pitch improves the ability of both men and women to perform these acoustic size judgements. These findings constitute the first demonstration of a sex difference in formant perception, and lend support to the idea that acoustic size normalization, a crucial prerequisite for speech perception, may have been sexually selected through male competition. We also provide the first evidence that vocalizations with relatively low pitch improve the perception of size-related formant information.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0180 Experimental psychology
Depositing User: David Reby
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2014 12:07
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2014 12:07
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/50513
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