Low is large: spatial location and pitch interact in voice-based body size estimation Journal Articles uri icon

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  • The binding of incongruent cues poses a challenge for multimodal perception. Indeed, although taller objects emit sounds from higher elevations, low-pitched sounds are perceptually mapped both to large size and to low elevation. In the present study, we examined how these incongruent vertical spatial cues (up is more) and pitch cues (low is large) to size interact, and whether similar biases influence size perception along the horizontal axis. In Experiment 1, we measured listeners' voice-based judgments of human body size using pitch-manipulated voices projected from a high versus a low, and a right versus a left, spatial location. Listeners associated low spatial locations with largeness for lowered-pitch but not for raised-pitch voices, demonstrating that pitch overrode vertical-elevation cues. Listeners associated rightward spatial locations with largeness, regardless of voice pitch. In Experiment 2, listeners performed the task while sitting or standing, allowing us to examine self-referential cues to elevation in size estimation. Listeners associated vertically low and rightward spatial cues with largeness more for lowered- than for raised-pitch voices. These correspondences were robust to sex (of both the voice and the listener) and head elevation (standing or sitting); however, horizontal correspondences were amplified when participants stood. Moreover, when participants were standing, their judgments of how much larger men's voices sounded than women's increased when the voices were projected from the low speaker. Our results provide novel evidence for a multidimensional spatial mapping of pitch that is generalizable to human voices and that affects performance in an indirect, ecologically relevant spatial task (body size estimation). These findings suggest that crossmodal pitch correspondences evoke both low-level and higher-level cognitive processes.


  • Pisanski, Katarzyna
  • Isenstein, Sari GE
  • Montano, Kelyn J
  • O’Connor, Jillian JM
  • Feinberg, David

publication date

  • May 2017