A “voice inversion effect?”

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Voice is the carrier of speech but is also an “auditory face” rich in information on the speaker's identity and affective state. Three experiments explored the possibility of a “voice inversion effect,” by analogy to the classical “face inversion effect,” which could support the hypothesis of a voice-specific module. Experiment 1 consisted of a gender identification task on two syllables pronounced by 90 speakers (boys, girls, men, and women). Experiment 2 consisted of a speaker discrimination task on pairs of syllables (8 men and 8 women). Experiment 3 consisted of an instrument discrimination task on pairs of melodies (8 string and 8 wind instruments). In all three experiments, stimuli were presented in 4 conditions: (1) no inversion; (2) temporal inversion (e.g., backwards speech); (3) frequency inversion centered around 4000 Hz; and (4) around 2500 Hz. Results indicated a significant decrease in performance caused by sound inversion, with a much stronger effect for frequency than for temporal inversion. Interestingly, although frequency inversion markedly affected timbre for both voices and instruments, subjects' performance was still above chance. However, performance at instrument discrimination was much higher than for voices, preventing comparison of inversion effects for voices vs. non-vocal stimuli. Additional experiments will be necessary to conclude on the existence of a possible “voice inversion effect.”

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