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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Jun;22(6):1263-70. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr204. Epub 2011 Aug 9.

Implicitly perceived vocal attractiveness modulates prefrontal cortex activity.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QB, UK.


Social interactions involve more than "just" language. As important is a more primitive nonlinguistic mode of communication acting in parallel with linguistic processes and driving our decisions to a much higher degree than is generally suspected. Amongst the "honest signals" that influence our behavior is perceived vocal attractiveness. Not only does vocal attractiveness reflect important biological characteristics of the speaker, it also influences our social perceptions according to the "what sounds beautiful is good" phenomenon. Despite the widespread influence of vocal attractiveness on social interactions revealed by behavioral studies, its neural underpinnings are yet unknown. We measured brain activity while participants listened to a series of vocal sounds ("ah") and performed an unrelated task. We found that voice-sensitive auditory and inferior frontal regions were strongly correlated with implicitly perceived vocal attractiveness. While the involvement of auditory areas reflected the processing of acoustic contributors to vocal attractiveness ("distance to mean" and spectrotemporal regularity), activity in inferior prefrontal regions (traditionally involved in speech processes) reflected the overall perceived attractiveness of the voices despite their lack of linguistic content. These results suggest the strong influence of hidden nonlinguistic aspects of communication signals on cerebral activity and provide an objective measure of this influence.

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