Childrens behavior

Researchers study gender perception from children’s voices

The perception of gender in children’s voices is of particular interest to researchers, as the voices of young boys and girls are very similar before the age of puberty. Adult male and female voices are often acoustically very different, making gender identification quite easy.

Gender perception is much more complicated in children because gender differences in speech can appear before gender-related anatomical differences between speakers. This suggests that listeners may need to take into account the speaker’s age when guessing the speaker’s gender, and that gender perception may depend on acoustic information not strictly related to anatomical differences between boys and girls.

In the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, published by the Acoustical Society of America via AIP Publishing, researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of Texas at Dallas state that they have developed a database of voice samples of children aged 5-18. explore two questions: what kinds of changes occur in children’s voices as they become adults, and how listeners cope with the enormous variability in acoustic patterns between speakers?

Listeners rate a speaker’s gender, age, height, and other physical characteristics based primarily on the height of the speaker’s voice and the resonance (forming frequencies) of their voice.

Resonance is related to the height of the speaker – think violin versus cello – and is a reliable indicator of overall body size. Apart from these basic cues, there are other more subtle cues related to behavior and how a person “chooses” to speak, rather than depending strictly on the anatomy of the speaker. “

Santiago Barreda, University of California, Davis

When Barreda and Peter Assmann of the University of Texas at Dallas presented listeners with syllables and phrases from different speakers, gender identification improved for the phrases. They said it supports stylistic elements of speech that highlight gender differences and stand out better in sentences.

They made two other important discoveries. First, listeners can reliably identify the sex of each child as young as 5 years old.

“This is long before there are any anatomical differences between the speakers and before there are any reliable differences in pitch or resonance,” Barreda said. “On this basis, we conclude that when the sex of individual children can be easily identified, it is because of differences in their behavior, in the way they speak, rather than because of their anatomy. “

Second, they found that identification of the gender of speakers must take place in conjunction with identification of likely age and physical size.

“Essentially, there is too much uncertainty in the voice signal to treat age, gender and height as independent decisions,” he said. “One way to solve this problem is to consider, for example, what 11-year-old boys look like, rather than what boys look like and what 11-year-old boys look like, as if they were questions. independent. “

Their work suggests that “gender perception may depend on subtle cues based on behavior and not anatomy,” Barreda said. In other words, information about gender in speech can be based largely on performance rather than physical differences between men and women. there would be no basis for reliably identifying the sex of little girls and boys. “

The performative nature of the genre has long been argued on theoretical grounds, and these experimental results support this perspective.


Journal reference:

Barreda, S & Assmann, PF, (2021) Gender perception in children’s voices. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

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