Speech-Language Pathologists’ Perceptions of Student Clinicians’ Voice
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The human voice is comprised of components that provide clues about the speaker including age, gender, nationality, and even physical and psychological health. However, due to the subjective nature of our perception, we may create inaccurate representations of individuals based solely on what we hear. Prior research has investigated how voice components are utilized to further listeners’ perceptions to include attributes such as physical attractiveness, politeness, and dominance (Borkowska & Pawlowski, 2011; Puts, Hodges, Cardenas, & Gaulin, 2007; Riding, Lonsdale, & Brown, 2006).
There is one vocal trend that has become a phenomenon among young American women known as vocal fry, a distinct vocal quality that is created by a unique vocal fold vibratory pattern (Abdelli-Beruh, Wolk, & Slavin, 2014; Wolk, Abdelli-Baruh, & Slavin, 2012). Research has found that some listeners perceive speakers having vocal fry as positive, whereby the listener forms a positive image of the speaker as being a successful professional (Yuasa, 2010). However, other research supports that listeners perceive vocal fry as negative placing the speaker at a professional disadvantage (Anderson, Klofstad, Mayew, & Venkatachalam, 2014). This present study investigated how the use of vocal fry among young women who will soon enter the speech-language pathology (SLP) profession, impacts the perception and impressions of experienced SLPs who may be hiring or supervising them.
Descriptive cross-sectional and survey research designs were conducted to analyze data from two participant groups. One group included 32 female SLP graduate students from Loyola University Maryland who provided a voice sample consisting of two recordings in their typical speaking voice. Two experienced listeners assigned each recordings to one of two categories: 1) normal sample with vocal fry on linguistically appropriate words or 2) abnormal sample with an excessive amount of vocal fry. Twelve recordings were selected - 5 normal and 7 abnormal. A Qualtrics survey was completed by 149 practicing SLPs requiring them to provide demographic information and perceptual ratings and impressions for 12 voice samples.
Out of the 32 SLP student participants, vocal fry was identified in approximately a third of the students. The mean average percentages for abnormal samples were: competent (79%), hirable (78%), educated(80%), and professional(76%) as compared with normal samples which were: competent(89%), hirable(90%), educated(90%), and professional(89%). The practicing SLPs were more accurate correctly identifying the normal samples as well.
Based upon a small sample of graduate SLP students, vocal fry is a present trend among young women. This study contributes to previous research suggesting that vocal fry negatively impacts the speaker and may be placing individuals at a professional disadvantage. These results suggest that individuals should attempt to limit the amount of vocal fry in a professional environment. These findings also suggest that practicing SLPs are less likely to accurately identify vocal fry, however, still perceived vocal fry use negatively.
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