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Concept: Human voice


The Lombard effect describes the automatic and involuntary increase in vocal intensity that speakers exhibit in a noisy environment. Previous studies of the Lombard effect have typically focused on the relationship between speaking and hearing. Automatic and involuntary increases in motor output have also been noted in studies of finger force production, an effect attributed to mechanisms of sensory attenuation. The present study tested the hypothesis that sensory attenuation mechanisms also underlie expression of the Lombard effect. Participants vocalized phonemes in time with a metronome, while auditory and visual feedback of their performance were manipulated or removed during the course of the trial. We demonstrate that providing a visual reference to calibrate somatosensory-based judgments of current vocal intensity resulted in reduced expression of the Lombard effect. Our results suggest that sensory attenuation effects typically seen in fingertip force production play an important role in the control of speech volume.

Concepts: Time, Auditory system, Sensory system, Human voice, Control theory, Phonetics, Audio feedback, Lombard effect


Non-verbal behaviours, including voice characteristics during speech, are an important way to communicate social status. Research suggests that individuals can obtain high social status through dominance (using force and intimidation) or through prestige (by being knowledgeable and skilful). However, little is known regarding differences in the vocal behaviour of men and women in response to dominant and prestigious individuals. Here, we tested within-subject differences in vocal parameters of interviewees during simulated job interviews with dominant, prestigious, and neutral employers (targets), while responding to questions which were classified as introductory, personal, and interpersonal. We found that vocal modulations were apparent between responses to the neutral and high-status targets, with participants, especially those who perceived themselves as low in dominance, increasing fundamental frequency (F0) in response to the dominant and prestigious targets relative to the neutral target. Self-perceived prestige, however, was less related to contextual vocal modulations than self-perceived dominance. Finally, we found that differences in the context of the interview questions participants were asked to respond to (introductory, personal, interpersonal), also affected their vocal parameters, being more prominent in responses to personal and interpersonal questions. Overall, our results suggest that people adjust their vocal parameters according to the perceived social status of the listener as well as their own self-perceived social status.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Human voice, Behavior, Interview, Contextual, Paralanguage, Fundamental frequency


Voice, as a secondary sexual characteristic, is known to affect the perceived attractiveness of human individuals. But the underlying mechanism of vocal attractiveness has remained unclear. Here, we presented human listeners with acoustically altered natural sentences and fully synthetic sentences with systematically manipulated pitch, formants and voice quality based on a principle of body size projection reported for animal calls and emotional human vocal expressions. The results show that male listeners preferred a female voice that signals a small body size, with relatively high pitch, wide formant dispersion and breathy voice, while female listeners preferred a male voice that signals a large body size with low pitch and narrow formant dispersion. Interestingly, however, male vocal attractiveness was also enhanced by breathiness, which presumably softened the aggressiveness associated with a large body size. These results, together with the additional finding that the same vocal dimensions also affect emotion judgment, indicate that humans still employ a vocal interaction strategy used in animal calls despite the development of complex language.

Concepts: Human, Human voice, Phonation, Singing, Vocal range


Vocal folds are used as sound sources in various species, but it is unknown how vocal fold morphologies are optimized for different acoustic objectives. Here we identify two main variables affecting range of vocal fold vibration frequency, namely vocal fold elongation and tissue fiber stress. A simple vibrating string model is used to predict fundamental frequency ranges across species of different vocal fold sizes. While average fundamental frequency is predominantly determined by vocal fold length (larynx size), range of fundamental frequency is facilitated by (1) laryngeal muscles that control elongation and by (2) nonlinearity in tissue fiber tension. One adaptation that would increase fundamental frequency range is greater freedom in joint rotation or gliding of two cartilages (thyroid and cricoid), so that vocal fold length change is maximized. Alternatively, tissue layers can develop to bear a disproportionate fiber tension (i.e., a ligament with high density collagen fibers), increasing the fundamental frequency range and thereby vocal versatility. The range of fundamental frequency across species is thus not simply one-dimensional, but can be conceptualized as the dependent variable in a multi-dimensional morphospace. In humans, this could allow for variations that could be clinically important for voice therapy and vocal fold repair. Alternative solutions could also have importance in vocal training for singing and other highly-skilled vocalizations.

Concepts: Acoustics, Human voice, Larynx, Phonation, Vocal folds, Phonetics, Fundamental frequency, Histology of the Vocal Folds


Freddie Mercury was one of the twentieth century’s best-known singers of commercial contemporary music. This study presents an acoustical analysis of his voice production and singing style, based on perceptual and quantitative analysis of publicly available sound recordings. Analysis of six interviews revealed a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz, which is typically found for a baritone voice. Analysis of voice tracks isolated from full band recordings suggested that the singing voice range was 37 semitones within the pitch range of F#2 (about 92.2 Hz) to G5 (about 784 Hz). Evidence for higher phonations up to a fundamental frequency of 1,347 Hz was not deemed reliable. Analysis of 240 sustained notes from 21 a-cappella recordings revealed a surprisingly high mean fundamental frequency modulation rate (vibrato) of 7.0 Hz, reaching the range of vocal tremor. Quantitative analysis utilizing a newly introduced parameter to assess the regularity of vocal vibrato corroborated its perceptually irregular nature, suggesting that vibrato (ir)regularity is a distinctive feature of the singing voice. Imitation of subharmonic phonation samples by a professional rock singer, documented by endoscopic high-speed video at 4,132 frames per second, revealed a 3:1 frequency locked vibratory pattern of vocal folds and ventricular folds.

Concepts: Acoustics, Human voice, Phonation, Vocal folds, Singing, Vocal range, Voice type, A cappella


Vocal fry is speech that is low pitched and creaky sounding, and is increasingly common among young American females. Some argue that vocal fry enhances speaker labor market perceptions while others argue that vocal fry is perceived negatively and can damage job prospects. In a large national sample of American adults we find that vocal fry is interpreted negatively. Relative to a normal speaking voice, young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable. The negative perceptions of vocal fry are stronger for female voices relative to male voices. These results suggest that young American females should avoid using vocal fry speech in order to maximize labor market opportunities.

Concepts: Human, Male, Female, Gender, Sex, Human voice, Phonation, Woman


Humans use music for a variety of social functions: we sing to accompany dance, to soothe babies, to heal illness, to communicate love, and so on. Across animal taxa, vocalization forms are shaped by their functions, including in humans. Here, we show that vocal music exhibits recurrent, distinct, and cross-culturally robust form-function relations that are detectable by listeners across the globe. In Experiment 1, internet users (n = 750) in 60 countries listened to brief excerpts of songs, rating each song’s function on six dimensions (e.g., “used to soothe a baby”). Excerpts were drawn from a geographically stratified pseudorandom sample of dance songs, lullabies, healing songs, and love songs recorded in 86 mostly small-scale societies, including hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and subsistence farmers. Experiment 1 and its analysis plan were pre-registered. Despite participants' unfamiliarity with the societies represented, the random sampling of each excerpt, their very short duration (14 s), and the enormous diversity of this music, the ratings demonstrated accurate and cross-culturally reliable inferences about song functions on the basis of song forms alone. In Experiment 2, internet users (n = 1,000) in the United States and India rated three contextual features (e.g., gender of singer) and seven musical features (e.g., melodic complexity) of each excerpt. The songs' contextual features were predictive of Experiment 1 function ratings, but musical features and the songs' actual functions explained unique variance in function ratings. These findings are consistent with the existence of universal links between form and function in vocal music.

Concepts: Agriculture, Sample size, Sampling, Human voice, Randomness, Singing, Song, Vocal music


Macaques do have a speech-ready vocal tract, but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.

Concepts: Human voice


The current research examined the relationship between hierarchy and vocal acoustic cues. Using Brunswik’s lens model as a framework, we explored how hierarchical rank influences the acoustic properties of a speaker’s voice and how these hierarchy-based acoustic cues affect perceivers' inferences of a speaker’s rank. By using objective measurements of speakers' acoustic cues and controlling for baseline cue levels, we were able to precisely capture the relationship between acoustic cues and hierarchical rank, as well as the covariation among the cues. In Experiment 1, analyses controlling for speakers' baseline cue levels found that the voices of individuals in the high-rank condition were higher in pitch and loudness variability but lower in pitch variability, compared with the voices of individuals in the low-rank condition. In Experiment 2, perceivers used higher pitch, greater loudness, and greater loudness variability to make accurate inferences of speakers' hierarchical rank. These experiments demonstrate that acoustic cues are systematically used to reflect and detect hierarchy.

Concepts: Hierarchy, Greek loanwords, Experiment, Human voice, Sound, Sound pressure, Loudspeaker


Following the birth of modern opera in Italy in 1600, the demand for soprano voices grew up and the prepuberal castration was carried out to preserve the young male voice into adult life. Among the castrati, Gaspare Pacchierotti was probably one of the most famous. The remains of Pacchierotti were exhumed for the first time in 2013, for a research in the reconstruction of his biological profile, to understand the secrets behind his sublime voice and how the castration influenced the body. All the findings discovered, through anthropological and Computed Tomography analyses, are consistent both with the occupational markers of a singer and with the hormonal effects of castration. The erosion of cervical vertebrae, the insertion of respiratory muscles and muscles of the arms can be an effect of the bodily position and exercise during singing. The hormonal effect of castration were related to osteoporosis and to the disorders of spine.

Concepts: Human voice, Singing, Opera, Vocal range, Voice type, Mezzo-soprano, Soprano, Castrato