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Do you sound tall or small?

Updated: Dec 3, 2013 02:51 PM

TUESDAY, Dec. 3, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Your voice might help listeners determine your approximate height without seeing you, according to a new study.

Researchers had men and women listen to recordings of identical sentences read by men and women of different heights. The listeners were asked to rank the speakers from tallest to shortest.

The results showed that the listeners were about 62 percent accurate in identifying the taller speakers. This rate is much higher than what can be achieved by chance alone, according to the study, which is scheduled for presentation Tuesday at an Acoustical Society of America meeting in San Francisco.

The findings could prove useful in solving crimes, the researchers noted.

"One would certainly like to know if, when an 'ear witness,' as they are often called, says that a talker's voice seemed 'tall' or 'large,' this information can be trusted. The answer seems to be yes," study author John Morton, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a society news release.

This ability may be attributed to a type of sound called subglottal resonance, which is produced in the lower airways of the lungs, said Morton.

"The best way to think about subglottal resonances is to imagine blowing into a glass bottle partially full with liquid: the less liquid in the bottle, the lower the sound," he explained.

The frequency of the subglottal resonance differs depending on a person's height, with resonances becoming progressively lower as height increases.

"In humans, the resonances are part of a larger group of sounds, which are sort of like an orchestra playing over the sound being made from the glass bottle. [The glass bottle] sound is still there, but it isn't easy to hear," Morton said.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about hearing.

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