Can we hear physical and social space together through prosody?

Ambre Davat, Véronique Aubergé, Gang Feng

When human listeners try to guess the spatial position of a speech source, they are influenced by the speaker's production level, regardless of the intensity level reaching their ears. Because the perception of distance is a very difficult task, they rely on their own experience, which tells them that a whispering talker is close to them, and that a shouting talker is far away. This study aims to test if similar results could be obtained for prosodic variations produced by a human speaker in an everyday life environment. It consists in a localization task, during which blindfolded subjects had to estimate the incoming voice direction, speaker orientation and distance of a trained female speaker, who uttered single words, following instructions concerning intensity and social-affect to be performed. This protocol was implemented in two experiments. First, a complex pretext task was used in order to distract the subjects from the strange behavior of the speaker. On the contrary, during the second experiment, the subjects were fully aware of the prosodic variations, which allowed them to adapt their perception. Results show the importance of the pretext task, and suggest that the perception of the speaker's orientation can be influenced by voice intensity.

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