Mind

Study Stresses the Importance of Recognizing Our Own Voice

New findings about our ability to identify our own speech illuminate our "sense of agency" and provide insight into auditory hallucinations.

By Sam WaltersJul 6, 2022 8:00 AM
Voices
(Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock)

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When we say something and struggle to recognize the sound, can we still recognize that we are its source? Though the answer may seem simple, recent research in Psychological Science reveals that our ability to recognize our own voice plays a pivotal role in our "sense of agency" over our speech.

These findings, researchers say, set the scene for future investigations into our control of our voices and could contribute to innovations in understanding and treating auditory hallucinations.

Knowing Our Voices

Psychologists say that people’s "sense of agency" comes from the consciousness and the control that they feel toward their actions. In other words, a sense of agency over our voice requires us to recognize that we are silent when we are silent and speaking when we are speaking.

Though crucial for feeling "in control" of our speech, psychologists say that this sense of auditory agency is far from universal. In fact, some people with schizophrenia perceive a variety of voices and sounds when alone and silent, and some struggle to single out the sound of their voices while speaking. These so-called auditory hallucinations, some specialists say, develop from "a dysfunctional sense of agency over speech," which still needs more study.

Attempting to address this oversight, a team of psychologists from the University of Tokyo systematically assessed people’s ability to recognize their voice. "This research investigated the significance of self-voice in the sense of agency, which previous studies have never sought out," says primary study author Ryu Ohata, a psychology researcher at the University of Tokyo, in a press release. "Our results demonstrate that hearing one’s own voice is a critical factor to increased self-agency over speech."

Testing Our Knowledge

To conduct their research, the team instructed 28 volunteers to vocalize simple vowel sounds and to react to recordings of their vocalizations, played at a neutral, decreased or increased pitch after one of five periods of time, from 50 milliseconds to 650 milliseconds. Then, the researchers asked the participants to rank whether they thought the voices in the recordings were their own.

The team found that the volunteers tended to recognize their voices at a normal pitch at any time, though they struggled to identify their voices at a decreased or increased pitch. 

Ultimately, the participants doubted that they produced a sound if they thought that the sound was in another person's voice. Understanding this fact, the team says, could inspire new investigations into the psychology of speech and could inform the treatment of auditory hallucinations in the future.

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