Speech Acoustic Features: A Comparison of Gay Men, Heterosexual Men, and Heterosexual Women

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31 August 2022

Potential differences between homosexual and heterosexual men have been studied on a diverse set of social and biological traits. Regarding acoustic features of speech, researchers have hypothesized a feminization of such characteristics in homosexual men, but previous investigations have so far produced mixed results. Moreover, most studies have been conducted with English-speaking populations, which calls for further cross-linguistic examinations. Lastly, no studies investigated so far the potential role of testosterone in the association between sexual orientation and speech acoustic features. To fill these gaps, we explored potential differences in acoustic features of speech between homosexual and heterosexual native French men and investigated whether the former showed a trend toward feminization by comparing theirs to that of heterosexual native French women. Lastly, we examined whether testosterone levels mediated the association between speech acoustic features and sexual orientation. We studied four sexually dimorphic acoustic features relevant for the qualification of feminine versus masculine voices: the fundamental frequency, its modulation, and two understudied acoustic features of speech, the harmonics-to-noise ratio (a proxy of vocal breathiness) and the jitter (a proxy of vocal roughness). Results showed that homosexual men displayed significantly higher pitch modulation patterns and less breathy voices compared to heterosexual men, with values shifted toward those of heterosexual women. Lastly, testosterone levels did not influence any of the investigated acoustic features. Combined with the literature conducted in other languages, our findings bring new support for the feminization hypothesis and suggest that the feminization of some acoustic features could be shared across languages.