Behavioural and neural insights into the recognition and motivational salience of familiar voice identities

Kanber, Elise;


Behavioural and neural insights into the recognition and motivational salience of familiar voice identities.

Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).


The majority of voices encountered in everyday life belong to people we know, such as close friends, relatives, or romantic partners. However, research to date has overlooked this type of familiarity when investigating voice identity perception. This thesis aimed to address this gap in the literature, through a detailed investigation of voice perception across different types of familiarity: personally familiar voices, famous voices, and lab-trained voices. The experimental chapters of the thesis cover two broad research topics: 1) Measuring the recognition and representation of personally familiar voice identities in comparison with labtrained identities, and 2) Investigating motivation and reward in relation to hearing personally valued voices compared with unfamiliar voice identities. In the first of these, an exploration of the extent of human voice recognition capabilities was undertaken using personally familiar voices of romantic partners. The perceptual benefits of personal familiarity for voice and speech perception were examined, as well as an investigation into how voice identity representations are formed through exposure to new voice identities. Evidence for highly robust voice representations for personally familiar voices was found in the face of perceptual challenges, which greatly exceeded those found for lab-trained voices of varying levels of familiarity. Conclusions are drawn about the relevance of the amount and type of exposure on speaker recognition, the expertise we have with certain voices, and the framing of familiarity as a continuum rather than a binary categorisation. The second topic utilised voices of famous singers and their “super-fans” as listeners to probe reward and motivational responses to hearing these valued voices, using behavioural and neuroimaging experiments. Listeners were found to work harder, as evidenced by faster reaction times, to hear their musical idol compared to less valued voices in an effort-based decision-making task, and the neural correlates of these effects are reported and examined.

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