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Effect of anchor terms on perceptions of gender (Houle et al., 2022)

posted on 2022-04-22, 18:06 authored by Nichole Houle, Deanna Goudelias, Mackenzie P. Lerario, Susannah V. Levi

Background: Studies investigating auditory perception of gender expression vary greatly in the specific terms applied to gender expression in rating scales. 

Purpose: This study examined the effects of different anchor terms on listeners’ auditory perceptions of gender expression in phonated and whispered speech. Additionally, token and speaker cues were examined to identify predictors of the auditory-perceptual ratings.

Method: Inexperienced listeners (n = 105) completed an online rating study in which they were asked to use one of five visual analog scales (VASs) to rate cis men, cis women, and transfeminine speakers in both phonated and whispered speech. The VASs varied by anchor term (very female/very male, feminine/masculine, feminine female/masculine male, very feminine/not at all feminine, and not at all masculine/very masculine).

Results: Linear mixed-effects models revealed significant two-way interactions of gender expression by anchor term and gender expression by condition. In general, the feminine female/masculine male scale resulted in the most extreme ratings (closest to the end points), and the feminine/masculine scale resulted in the most central ratings. As expected, for all speakers, whispered speech was rated more centrally than phonated speech. Additionally, ratings of phonated speech were predicted by mean fundamental frequency (fo) within each speaker group and by smoothed cepstral peak prominence in cisgender speakers. In contrast, ratings of whispered speech, which lacks an fo, were predicted by indicators of vocal tract resonance (second formant and speaker height).

Conclusions: The current results indicate that differences in the terms applied to rating scales limit generalization of results across studies. Identifying the patterns across listener ratings of gender expression provide a rationale for researchers and clinicians when making choices about terms. Additionally, beyond fo and vocal tract resonance, predictors of listener ratings vary based on the anchor terms used to describe gender expression.

Supplemental Material S1. Gender and femininity/masculinity rating scales types by study.

Supplemental Material S2. Full model outputs.

Houle, B., Goudelias, D., Lerario, M. P., & Levi, S. V. (2022). Effect of anchor term on auditory-perceptual ratings of feminine and masculine speakers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.


This work was partially supported by National Institutes of Health–funded postdoctoral fellowship to N.H. (2T32DC013017-06), a New York University Steinhardt IDEA grant to S.V.L., and a New York University Research and Creative Project Award to D.G.


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