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May 2022

''You're only as old as you sound'': Perceived vocal age and social meanings

Author(s): Giles, H.

Journal/Book: Health Commun. 1996; 8: 10 Industrial Ave, Mahwah, NJ 07430-2262. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc. 199-215.

Abstract: Studies have shown that listeners are reasonably accurate in guessing adult age from voice. Our study was based on the premise that speakers' perceived age (rated by listeners) was more a function of their self-reported subjective and/or contextual ages than their actual chronological ages. Interviews with 36 socially active, healthy men and women aged 59 to 92 years (M = 77 years) were recorded. Age-neutral extracts of the interviews were subjected to a series of assessments (i.e., age estimates, vocal characteristic judgments, and psychological trait attributions) by different groups of 512 young adults. Contrary to hypotheses, yet nonetheless important, was the finding that subjective and contextual ages were no better predictors of perceived age than was chronological age. Unexpectedly, and even more important, was the finding that how old a person sounded, rather than how old one was or even how old one felt, best predicted negative psychological judgments. Regression analyses showed that four vocal variables (unclear, strained, vowel elongation, and lack of coarse voice) predicted perceived age, which itself was correlated with five stereotypical traits (frail, ill-natured, subdued, incompetent, and dependent). Perceived age from voice might be a potent and hitherto underappreciated social factor influencing the dynamics of intergenerational communication. Some important implications for health concerns are discussed.

Note: Article VS-CARD H Giles, Univ Calif Santa Barbara, Dept Commun, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 USA


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