The pitch of babies’ cries predicts their voice pitch at age 5

Florence Levrero, Nicolas Mathevon, Katarzyna Pisanski, Erik Gustafsson, David Reby

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Voice pitch (fundamental frequency, F0) is a key dimension of our voice that varies between sexes after puberty, and also among individuals of the same sex both before and after puberty. While a recent longitudinal study indicates that inter-individual differences in voice pitch remain stable in men during adulthood and may even be determined before puberty (Fouquet et al. 2016 R. Soc. open sci. 3, 160395. (doi:10.1098/rsos.160395)), whether these differences emerge in infancy remains unknown. Here, using a longitudinal study design, we investigate the hypothesis that inter-individual differences in F0 are already present in the cries of pre-verbal babies. While based on a small sample (n = 15), our results indicate that the F0 of babies' cries at 4 months of age may predict the F0 of their speech utterances at 5 years of age, explaining 41% of the inter-individual variance in voice pitch at that age in our sample. We also found that the right-hand ratio of the length of their index to ring finger (2D : 4D digit ratio), which has been proposed to constitute an index of prenatal testosterone exposure, was positively correlated with F0 at both 4 months and 5 years of age. These findings suggest that a substantial proportion of between-individual differences in voice pitch, which convey important biosocial information about speakers, may partly originate in utero and thus already be present soon after birth.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20180065
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


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