Newswise — WASHINGTON, D.C., May 8, 2018 -- Have you ever turned the dial on the radio or switched the television channel because you found the quality of the presenter’s voice grating? What is it about a person’s voice that can be soothing, aggravating or even sensual? Jody E. Kreiman, at the University of California, Los Angeles, is tackling the question of how we perceive voice quality by studying how people think of a “normal” voice.

Humans communicate their intentions, feelings and desires verbally, so voice disorders can have devastating personal and professional consequences. A perceived voice abnormality may lead to a negative assessment of the speaker’s intelligence, health and personality. “How you sound affects every aspect of your existence as a biological being,” Kreiman said. “Voice quality is your auditory face.”

During the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, being held May 7-11, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kreiman will describe her work on voice perception and what it means for a voice to sound “normal.”

“When we started looking at the literature, everyone dodges the question of normalness,” Kreiman said. “Clearly, a great deal depends on what we call ‘normal’ and not ‘normal.’” Kreiman and her colleagues have devised a new method to assess voice quality by combining the fields of physiology, aerodynamics, acoustics and perception.

Kreiman had volunteers listen to voice recordings and order them according to the perceived severity of vocal pathology. Each recording consisted of a one-second sustained vowel sound produced by 100 female speakers. Half of the vocalizations were obtained from clinical recordings of individuals with diagnosed voice abnormalities, while the remaining recordings were obtained from UCLA students with no known vocal disorder.

“We are not interested in cases where people have a very large abnormality,” she said. “We are more interested in borderline cases so we can begin defining a boundary between ‘normal’ and not ‘normal.’”

Is there such a thing as a normal voice? The short answer is not really.

The results suggest that listeners were individually consistent in their judgments, placing voice samples on the spectrum from normal to abnormal, and sometimes agreeing on which voices sounded abnormal. However, within the group, respondents did not agree on which voices sounded “normal.” This might be because they used different vocal characteristics when making their judgments. These results suggest that “normal” quality is not a single vocal state.

“What these results are really saying is that the current view that voice perception is just the voice signal, or the person speaking, or the person listening, is wrong,” Kreiman said. “We are dealing with a dynamic interaction between the speaker, the signal, the context and the listener, and we have to understand how all these different parts go together to really understand voice.”

Kreiman acknowledges that there are limitations to the study. The recordings only included female speakers, but they are studying a collection of male speakers in follow-up work. In addition, the recordings only consisted of sustained vowels and used a limited acoustic model.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation supported this research. Anita Auszmann and Bruce R. Gerratt are co-authors of this work.


Poster 2pSC7 "What does it mean for a voice to be 'normal?'" by Jody E. Kreiman, will be on display 1:00-2:30 p.m. CDT, May 8, 2018, in room Nicollet A at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.


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The 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America

The meeting is being held May 7-11, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 


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In the coming weeks, ASA’s Worldwide Press Room will be updated with additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and with lay language papers, which are 300- to 500-word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio and video. You can visit the site during the meeting at


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A press briefing featuring a selection of newsworthy research will be webcast live from the conference on Tuesday, May 8, 2018; register at to watch online. Topics and times to be announced. 

ABOUT THE ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICAThe Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world's leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about ASA, visit our website at


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