Nav: Home

I am human, hear me roar: Judging formidability from human vocalizations

June 28, 2018

Many animals--including sea lions, red deer, and dogs--use vocalizations to judge one another's size and physical formidability when in competition for mates or other resources. Now, researchers reporting in the journal iScience on June 28 have found that humans can use nonverbal vocal cues, including aggressive roars, in a similar way. The new evidence is the first to show that, from a vocalization alone, human listeners can estimate whether another person is stronger or weaker or taller or shorter than they are with a high degree of accuracy.

"Previous investigations have found that humans can estimate height and strength from the voice, but that they don't do it very well," said Jordan Raine of David Reby's vocal communication lab at the University of Sussex. "However, no one has ever investigated to what extent people can judge whether someone is stronger or weaker than themselves--a judgment that may be more relevant to the survival of our ancestors than judging someone's absolute strength or body size"

To find out what humans could infer from nonverbal vocal cues, the researchers measured the upper-body strength and height of men and women and recorded them producing aggressive roars and aggressive speech sentences. In two separate playback experiments, they then measured the upper-body strength and height of listeners and asked them to judge, based on those recordings, whether the vocalizer they heard was either stronger or weaker or taller or shorter than them.

And, indeed, they could. For example, when judging roars, male listeners accurately identified vocalizers who were substantially stronger than themselves in 88% of trials, and never as weaker.

Interestingly, listeners perceived male vocalizers as stronger when rating roars than when rating aggressive speech produced by the same person. Thus, the researchers say, roars serve to exaggerate the perceived strength of a male vocalizer.

The researchers also found that women tended to overestimate men's strength. When a male vocalizer was of similar strength or weaker than a female listener, women tended to rate the man as stronger. Raine says this finding is in keeping with a general tendency for women to underestimate, and men to overestimate, their abilities.

"When other animals produce vocalizations, they're doing so for a reason--they're communicating information about themselves, be it physical condition or internal state. The information is often 'honest,' but as our study shows, vocalizations can also serve to exaggerate traits such as physical formidability," Raine said. "Humans are unique in being able to express complex concepts and emotions with speech, but we still produce a wide range of nonverbal vocalizations, and our results suggest that these sounds communicate information in a similar way to other mammals. So, when you next hear a roar in a Game of Thrones battle scene, remember that it's more than just a noise--it is both a window into that person's physical characteristics and a social tool to influence those within earshot."

As for the researchers, they're continuing to investigate the acoustic structure and function of other human nonverbal vocalizations, including pain cries.
-end-
This work was supported by the University of Sussex, the European Commission, and the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

iScience, Raine et al.: "Human listeners can accurately judge formidability relative to self from aggressive roars and speech" https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(18)30057-9

iScience (@iScience_CP) is a new open-access, interdisciplinary journal from Cell Press that provides a platform for original research in the life, physical, and earth sciences. The primary criterion for publication in iScience is a significant contribution to a relevant field combined with robust results and underlying methodology. Visit: http://www.cell.com/iscience. To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Speech Articles:

Using a cappella to explain speech and music specialization
Speech and music are two fundamentally human activities that are decoded in different brain hemispheres.
Speech could be older than we thought
The theory of the 'descended larynx' has stated that before speech can emerge, the larynx must be in a low position to produce differentiated vowels.
How the brain detects the rhythms of speech
Neuroscientists at UC San Francisco have discovered how the listening brain scans speech to break it down into syllables.
New findings on human speech recognition at TU Dresden
Neuroscientists at TU Dresden were able to prove that speech recognition in humans begins in the sensory pathways from the ear to the cerebral cortex and not, as previously assumed, exclusively in the cerebral cortex itself.
Babbling babies' behavior changes parents' speech
New research shows baby babbling changes the way parents speak to their infants, suggesting that infants are shaping their own learning environments.
Hearing through your fingers: Device that converts speech
A novel study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience provides the first evidence that a simple and inexpensive non-invasive speech-to-touch sensory substitution device has the potential to improve hearing in hearing-impaired cochlear implant patients, as well as individuals with normal hearing, to better discern speech in various situations like learning a second language or trying to deal with the 'cocktail party effect.' The device can provide immediate multisensory enhancement without any training.
AI can detect depression in a child's speech
A machine learning algorithm can detect signs of anxiety and depression in the speech patterns of young children, potentially providing a fast and easy way of diagnosing conditions that are difficult to spot and often overlooked in young people.
Synthetic speech generated from brain recordings
A state-of-the-art brain-machine interface created by UC San Francisco neuroscientists can generate natural-sounding synthetic speech by using brain activity to control a virtual vocal tract -- an anatomically detailed computer simulation including the lips, jaw, tongue, and larynx.
New breakthrough in understanding a severe child speech impediment
An international study led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has made a breakthrough in identifying a potential cause of the most severe child speech impediment -- apraxia.
Dummies not to blame for common speech disorder in kids
New University of Sydney research shows bottles, dummies, and thumb sucking in the early years of life do not cause or worsen phonological impairment, the most common type of speech disorder in children.
More Speech News and Speech Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 2: Every Day is Ignaz Semmelweis Day
It began with a tweet: "EVERY DAY IS IGNAZ SEMMELWEIS DAY." Carl Zimmer – tweet author, acclaimed science writer and friend of the show – tells the story of a mysterious, deadly illness that struck 19th century Vienna, and the ill-fated hero who uncovered its cure ... and gave us our best weapon (so far) against the current global pandemic. This episode was reported and produced with help from Bethel Habte and Latif Nasser. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.