While humans use their voice mainly for communicating information about the world, paralinguistic cues in the voice signal convey rich dynamic information about a speaker's arousal and emotional state, and extralinguistic cues reflect more stable speaker characteristics including identity, biological sex and social gender, socioeconomic or regional background, and age. Here we review the anatomical and physiological bases for individual differences in the human voice, before discussing how recent methodological progress in voice morphing and voice synthesis has promoted research on current theoretical issues, such as how voices are mentally represented in the human brain. Special attention is dedicated to the distinction between the recognition of familiar and unfamiliar speakers, in everyday situations or in the forensic context, and on the processes and representational changes that accompany the learning of new voices. We describe how specific impairments and individual differences in voice perception could relate to specific brain correlates. Finally, we consider that voices are produced by speakers who are often visible during communication, and review recent evidence that shows how speaker perception involves dynamic face–voice integration. The representation of para- and extralinguistic vocal information plays a major role in person perception and social communication, could be neuronally encoded in a prototype-referenced manner, and is subject to flexible adaptive recalibration as a result of specific perceptual experience. WIREs Cogn Sci 2014, 5:15–25. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1261
Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.
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