Human roars communicate upper-body strength more effectively than do screams or aggressive and distressed speech

Raine, Jordan, Pisanski, Katarzyna, Bond, Rod, Simner, Julia, Reby, David and Unset (2019) Human roars communicate upper-body strength more effectively than do screams or aggressive and distressed speech. PLoS ONE, 14 (3). e0213034 1-28. ISSN 1932-6203

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Despite widespread evidence that nonverbal components of human speech (e.g., voice pitch) communicate information about physical attributes of vocalizers and that listeners can judge traits such as strength and body size from speech, few studies have examined the communicative functions of human nonverbal vocalizations (such as roars, screams, grunts and laughs). Critically, no previous study has yet to examine the acoustic correlates of strength in nonverbal vocalisations, including roars, nor identified reliable vocal cues to strength in human speech. In addition to being less acoustically constrained than articulated speech, agonistic nonverbal vocalizations function primarily to express motivation and emotion, such as threat, and may therefore communicate strength and body size more effectively than speech. Here, we investigated acoustic cues to strength and size in roars compared to screams and speech sentences produced in both aggressive and distress contexts. Using playback experiments, we then tested whether listeners can reliably infer a vocalizer’s actual strength and height from roars, screams, and valenced speech equivalents, and which acoustic features predicted listeners’ judgments. While there were no consistent acoustic cues to strength in any vocal stimuli, listeners accurately judged inter-individual differences in strength, and did so most effectively from aggressive voice stimuli (roars and aggressive speech). In addition, listeners more accurately judged strength from roars than from aggressive speech. In contrast, listeners’ judgments of height were most accurate for speech stimuli. These results support the prediction that vocalizers maximize impressions of physical strength in aggressive compared to distress contexts, and that inter-individual variation in strength may only be honestly communicated in vocalizations that function to communicate threat, particularly roars. Thus, in continuity with nonhuman mammals, the acoustic structure of human aggressive roars may have been selected to communicate, and to some extent exaggerate, functional cues to physical formidability.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Voice; nonverbal; dominance; aggression; formidability; height; body size; distress; roar; scream
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Depositing User: Sanjeedah Choudhury
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2019 08:58
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2019 18:16

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