The human voice fascinates me. This is probably not surprising! But a new study out of Western caught my attention.
In essence, it shows that familiar voices are easier to understand even if a person doesn’t recognize them as familiar. The brain always knows.
For example, researchers learned that in a noisy room where it’s difficult to hear conversation, we will be able to understand a friend more easily than a stranger. For a person with hearing loss, this is not surprising. But this is: We can still pick out what a friend or family member’s voice is saying, when the pitch or resonance are altered. So, even though a test subject couldn’t always understand what was being said, they knew whether or not it was a familiar voice.
This tells me two things. First, one should never disguise their voice and threaten someone they know over the phone. Although the call recipient will understand the threat, they’ll also recognize the caller as being familiar. (I think I’m watching too many movies.) Second, we are more like dogs than we’d like to admit. Ever try to fool your dog with your voice? It can’t be done. He knows it’s you! Scent might have something to do with that too, but that’s for another study.
Trying to make out a conversation in a noisy setting is especially difficult if I’m talking to a stranger. This explains why people with diminished hearing sometimes avoid social situations. It’s just too much work.
Speaking of hearing loss, Billy Crystal is working with an international organization that provides hearing aids to people who can’t afford them. It was a kick to see how excited he got about helping people hear for the first time. His latest project, a play, was an afterthought in his conversation with Jimmy Fallon. Enjoy.