Familiarity and task context shape the use of acoustic information in voice identity perception

Nadine Lavan*, Jens Kreitewolf*, Jonas Obleser, Carolyn McGettigan

*Corresponding author for this work
6 Citations (Scopus)


Familiar and unfamiliar voice perception are often understood as being distinct from each other. For identity perception, theoretical work has proposed that listeners use acoustic information in different ways to perceive identity from familiar and unfamiliar voices: Unfamiliar voices are thought to be processed based on close comparisons of acoustic properties, while familiar voices are processed based on diagnostic acoustic features that activate a stored person-specific representation of that voice. To date no empirical study has directly examined whether and how familiar and unfamiliar listeners differ in their use of acoustic information for identity perception. Here, we tested this theoretical claim by linking listeners' judgements in voice identity tasks to complex acoustic representation — spectral similarity of the heard voice recordings. Participants (N = 177) who were either familiar or unfamiliar with a set of voices completed an identity discrimination task (Experiment 1) or an identity sorting task (Experiment 2). In both experiments, identity judgements for familiar and unfamiliar voices were guided by spectral similarity: Pairs of recordings with greater acoustic similarity were more likely to be perceived as belonging to the same voice identity. However, while there were no differences in how familiar and unfamiliar listeners used acoustic information for identity discrimination, differences were apparent for identity sorting. Our study therefore challenges proposals that view familiar and unfamiliar voice perception as being at all times distinct. Instead, our data suggest a critical role of the listening situation in which familiar and unfamiliar voices are evaluated, thus characterising voice identity perception as a highly dynamic process in which listeners opportunistically make use of any kind of information they can access.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104780
Publication statusPublished - 10.2021

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)

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