Thursday, March 20, 2008

Do men and women process voices differently?

I was listening to a podcast last night and the person being interviewed cited research that claimed men process voices in a different part of the brain than women do. According to the research, men process voices in the same place where they process music. If this were true, it'd be great-- differences explained scientifically, if not, it was yet more pseudo-science for "Relationship Experts" to cite in books. I was intrigued-- real science or pseudo-science? I decided to investigate.

Here is what I found.

A basic summary of the argument from Discover Magazine:

"Psychiatrist Michael Hunter and fellow researchers at the University of Sheffield in England monitored the brain activity of 12 men as they listened to voice recordings and found they process male voices differently from those of females. Women's voices stimulate an area of the brain used for processing complex sounds, like music. Male voices activate the "mind's eye," a region of the brain used for conjuring imagery.

One reason, Hunter suggests, is that women generally have shorter vocal cords and a smaller larynx, giving them higher-pitched voices. Women's voices may also have more "natural melody," he adds. Qualities like pitch and volume vary more during speech. "There's more prosody in female speech."

Unfortunately, not only has there been a lot of spin on this, the experiment was very poorly executed. According to this blog post, which I think is a very rational one.

Between these two posts, I haven't found much else. However, I did consult some guy friends-- a couple less than 12-- perhaps I could count this as a formal research study, too? They did say that tone makes a huge difference to them and that they wouldn't be surprised if the research was true.

This was a pretty amusing take on the male and female brain. I'm not so sure how I feel about his comment about emotions, but still. I found it worth a laugh.

Agent Ska

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