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The resulting speech still sounded natural, and its acoustic properties remained within the normal range.
But would the alterations affect listeners’ perceptions?
Each man was asked to discuss — with both the woman and his competitor — the reasons he might be respected or admired by other men. The researchers analyzed a tape recording of the male contestants’ voices, and scrutinized each man’s answers to the questionnaire.
Then, after pouring his heart out about his prowess on the basketball court, his potential for winning the Nobel Prize, or his recipe for asparagus quiche, the session was ended, and he was asked to answer some questions assessing himself, his competitor, and the woman. One issue the questionnaires probed was the contestant’s appraisal of his level of physical dominance as compared to that of his competitor.
In another, they excise just the highest frequencies, which wreaks havoc with our ability to accurately identify consonants.
Either way, the meaning is unintelligible while the feel of speech remains.
Scientists have developed fascinating computer tools that allow them to determine the influence of voice alone, devoid of content.
From the point of view of evolution, what’s interesting about all this is that a woman’s attraction to men with low voices is most pronounced when she is in the fertile phase of her ovulatory cycle.
What’s more, not only do women’s voice preferences vary with the phases of their reproductive cycle, so do their voices — in their pitch and smoothness — and research indicates that the greater a woman’s risk of conception, the sexier men find her voice.
As a result, that both women and men are especially attracted to each other’s voices during a woman’s fertile period.
Studies show that when people listen to such “content-free” speech, they still perceive the same impressions of the speaker and the same emotional content that they do in the unaltered speech. Because as we are decoding the meaning of the utterances we call language, our minds are, in parallel, analyzing, judging, and being affected by, qualities of voice that have nothing to do with words.
In one experiment scientists created recordings of a couple dozen speakers answering the same two questions, one political, one personal: What is your opinion of college admissions designed to favor minority groups?