Acting Gay: Male Actors Shift the Frequency Components of Their Voices Towards Female Values When Playing Homosexual Characters
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The purpose of this study was to investigate whether actors playing homosexual male characters in North-American television shows speak with a feminized voice, thus following longstanding stereotypes that attribute feminine characteristics to male homosexuals. We predicted that when playing homosexual characters, actors would raise the frequency components of their voice towards more stereotypically feminine values. This study compares fundamental frequency (F0) and formant frequencies (F i ) parameters in the speech of fifteen actors playing homosexual and heterosexual characters in North-American television shows. Our results reveal that the voices of actors playing homosexual male characters are characterized by a raised F0 (corresponding to a higher pitch), and raised formant frequencies (corresponding to a less baritone timbre), approaching values typical of female voices. Besides providing further evidence of the existence of an “effeminacy” stereotype in portraying male homosexuals in the media, these results show that actors perform pitch and vocal tract length adjustments in order to alter their perceived sexual orientation, emphasizing the role of these frequency components in the behavioral expression of gender attributes in the human voice.
KeywordsVoice Formant frequency Fundamental frequency Gender Sexual orientation
Many thanks to Karen McComb and Robin Banerjee for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper.
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