Perceived naturalness of emotional voice morphs

Cognition and Emotion 37 (4):731-747 (2023)
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Abstract

Research into voice perception benefits from manipulation software to gain experimental control over acoustic expression of social signals such as vocal emotions. Today, parameter-specific voice morphing allows a precise control of the emotional quality expressed by single vocal parameters, such as fundamental frequency (F0) and timbre. However, potential side effects, in particular reduced naturalness, could limit ecological validity of speech stimuli. To address this for the domain of emotion perception, we collected ratings of perceived naturalness and emotionality on voice morphs expressing different emotions either through F0 or Timbre only. In two experiments, we compared two different morphing approaches, using either neutral voices or emotional averages as emotionally non-informative reference stimuli. As expected, parameter-specific voice morphing reduced perceived naturalness. However, perceived naturalness of F0 and Timbre morphs were comparable with averaged emotions as reference, potentially making this approach more suitable for future research. Crucially, there was no relationship between ratings of emotionality and naturalness, suggesting that the perception of emotion was not substantially affected by a reduction of voice naturalness. We hold that while these findings advocate parameter-specific voice morphing as a suitable tool for research on vocal emotion perception, great care should be taken in producing ecologically valid stimuli.

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