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Journal Article

Auditory perceptual assessment of voices: Examining perceptual ratings as a function of voice experience


Merrill,  Julia
Department of Music, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Merrill, J. (2022). Auditory perceptual assessment of voices: Examining perceptual ratings as a function of voice experience. Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-022-02734-7.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-1133-9
Understanding voice usage is vital to our understanding of human interaction. What is known about the auditory perceptual evaluation of voices comes mainly from studies of voice professionals, who evaluate operatic/lyrical singing in specific contexts. This is surprising as recordings of singing voices from different musical styles are an omnipresent phenomenon, evoking reactions in listeners with various levels of expertise. Understanding how untrained listeners perceive and describe voices will open up new research possibilities and enhance vocal communication between listeners. Here three studies with a mixed-methods approach aimed at: (1) evaluating the ability of untrained listeners to describe voices, and (2) determining what auditory features were most salient in participants’ discrimination of voices. In an interview (N = 20) and a questionnaire study (N = 48), free voice descriptions by untrained listeners of 23 singing voices primarily from popular music were compared with terms used by voice professionals, revealing that participants were able to describe voices using vocal characteristics from essential categories indicating sound quality, pitch changes, articulation, and variability in expression. Nine items were derived and used in an online survey for the evaluation of six voices by trained and untrained listeners in a German (N = 216) and an English (N = 50) sample, revealing that neither language nor expertise affected the assessment of the singers. A discriminant analysis showed that roughness and tension were important features for voice discrimination. The measurement of vocal expression created in the current study will be informative for studying voice perception and evaluation more generally.