People make similar judgements about strangers' faces and voices, study suggests

People make similar judgements about strangers regardless of whether they just see their face or only hear their voice, new research suggests.

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Participants were presented with images of faces and the audio of voices

People make similar judgements of strangers regardless of whether they just see their face or only hear their voice, new research suggests.

The study – led by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University – also found that, in many cases, participants could accurately match the faces and voices of people they had never met.

The research, from the University’s School of Social Sciences, is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

A total of 47 participants were separately presented with 18 images of faces and the audio of 18 voices before being asked to provide details about the perceived characteristics of those strangers. Participants were not told that the faces and voices belonged to the same group of people.

We found that we make very similar judgements about people regardless of whether we see their face or hear their voice.

Harriet Smith, Nottingham Trent University

Using a sliding seven-point scale, they were required to rate the person in terms of very feminine-very masculine; very unhealthy-very healthy; very short-very tall; and very underweight-very overweight. They were also asked to estimate the stranger’s age.

Psychologists then measured the strength of the relationships for ratings given by participants to both faces and voices, whereby a value of zero would indicate no relationship between a matching face and voice, and a value of one a perfect relationship.

They found that it was near perfect for masculinity and femininity (0.95) – suggesting that if someone looked more masculine they would also tend to sound more masculine, and if they looked more feminine they would sound more feminine.

The relationship was also very strong for height (0.84) and health (0.77).

For each seven-point scale participants were on average just one point away from attributing the same rating to the face and the voice.

Age ratings of faces and voices were within just four years of one another, on average.

In a further test, the researchers found that participants were able to match the right face to the right voice 60% of the time when asked if they belonged to the same person.

The researchers are interested in further investigating the forensic implications of these results to see what kind of additional information 'earwitnesses' to crimes might be able to offer the police.

“Previous studies have tended to look at judgements of faces and voices separately, but we specifically wanted to investigate whether judgements made from faces and voices were similar,” said Nottingham Trent University’s Harriet Smith.

She said: “We are always making judgements about people based on how they look and how they sound. People talk to someone over the phone and build up an image of what they look like, for instance. We wanted to investigate how accurate this image is likely to be.

“We found that we make very similar judgements about people regardless of whether we see their face or hear their voice, and that it’s even possible to match the faces and voices of unfamiliar people.

“It’s possible that there could be an evolutionary explanation behind this. The rating results suggest that faces and voices are 'back-up signals' for characteristics of fitness and quality, which might influence mate choice. Both signal the same information, making it easier for other people to make quick judgements.”

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    The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015.  It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution’s world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

People make similar judgements about strangers' faces and voices, study suggests

Published on 17 February 2016
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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