UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Speech Science Forum - Katarzyna Pisanski (CNRS)

08 December 2022, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

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A pitch for life: Individual differences in human fundamental frequency are highly stable

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Justin Lo


Voice pitch is arguably the most intensively studied, sexually dimorphic, and salient nonverbal parameter of the human voice. As the perceptual correlate of fundamental frequency (fo), determined namely by vocal fold size and tension, voice pitch is lower in adults than in children and in men than in women. However, fo still varies considerably within these age-sex classes. Hundreds of studies have linked these individual differences in fo to biologically and socially relevant speaker characteristics, from hormone levels and reproductive fitness to perceived dominance and trustworthiness. Given the dynamic nature of fo, both as people age and as they speak, how stable are between-individual differences in this critical vocal parameter? In a series of within-subject and longitudinal studies, we first show that individual differences in human fo remain remarkably conserved across the lifespan, from infancy into adulthood. The pitch of babies’ cries predicts their voice pitch as children, and the pitch of pre-pubertal children’s voices predicts their voice pitch throughout adulthood. Second, we show that individual differences in voice pitch are stable across utterances produced by the same people, from neutral and emotional speech to nonverbal vocalisations like cries and screams. The duration of a person’s speech, whether a single vowel or a full paragraph, also doesn’t have a large effect on how they are perceived by listeners. Taken together, these results suggest that voice pitch, known to play an important role in social and mating success, is largely determined in early human ontogeny and may be linked to androgen levels in the womb. Voice pitch may thus constitute a robust individual and biosocial marker with predictive power across disparate communication contexts, and with relevance to both human listeners and voice recognition technologies.​

About the Speaker

Katarzyna Pisanski

at French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)

More about Katarzyna Pisanski