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Whispering - the hidden side of auditory communication

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Frühholz S. Trost W. Kotz S.,
Project Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Auditory Perception - Challenging The Human Auditory System at The Limits of Hearing
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal NeuroImage
Page(s) 1 - 10
Title of proceedings NeuroImage


Whispering is a unique expression mode that is specific to auditory communication. Individuals switch their vocalization mode to whispering especially when affected by inner emotions in certain social contexts, such as in intimate relationships or intimidating social interactions. Although this context-dependent whispering is adaptive, whispered voices are acoustically far less rich than phonated voices and thus impose higher hearing and neural auditory decoding demands for recognizing their socio-affective value by listeners. The neural dynamics underlying this recognition especially from whispered voices are largely unknown. Here we show that whispered voices in humans are considerably impoverished as quantified by an entropy measure of spectral acoustic information, and this missing information needs large-scale neural compensation in terms of auditory and cognitive processing. Notably, recognizing the socio-affective information from voices was slightly more difficult from whispered voices, probably based on missing tonal information. While phonated voices elicited extended activity in auditory regions for decoding of relevant tonal and time information and the valence of voices, whispered voices elicited activity in a complex auditory-frontal brain network. Our data suggest that a large-scale multidirectional brain network compensates for the impoverished sound quality of socially meaningful environmental signals to support their accurate recognition and valence attribution.