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Perception and judgement of whispered vocalisations

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Whispering is regarded as a close-contact vocalisation which, in structural terms, clearly differs from normal (phonated) speech. Here, we present the first experimental evidence for specific functional differences that additionally exist between these two forms of human vocal communication. Such evidence was collected by an inquiry into the perception and also the social judgement of whispered vocalisations. Subjects were young adults (mainly students; N=202) who were exposed to auditory stimuli which, for exclusion of verbal effects, were given in artificial vocal patterns only. To test for possible social effects, our stimuli (whispered phrases or, for control, phonated phrases) simulated exposures to three socially different situations: 'monologues', 'dialogues', and 'dialogues including laughter'. Evaluation of self-report data collected after each stimulation revealed that only the whispered stimuli received significant numbers of socially negative judgements or votes, that documented 'feelings of social segregation'. Such judgements were most frequent after exposures to 'dialogues including laughter', but less frequent after 'monologues'. Taken together our study suggests that whispering is not just a mere close-contact vocalisation, but a vocal expression with specific social side-effects. To explain these effects we presume that whispering signals primarily a strong affiliation of its users, and that such role may make other listeners feel to be excluded from a whispered interaction.


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