Exploring Relationships Between Communication Features, Gender Attribution Ratings, and Quality of Life for Transgender and Cisgender Communicators

  • Author / Creator
    Hardy, Teresa
  • Background: Voice and communication modification training is a critical aspect of the gender affirmation process for many transgender people. Incongruence between communication characteristics and gender positioning can be a cause of gender dysphoria and lead to misattribution or being outed as a transgender person, which can have significant negative social consequences (e.g., discrimination, physical harm). Consequently, identifying the characteristics of communication that contribute most to conveying one’s gender and masculinity-femininity is important for informing voice and communication modification training practices. Objective: The two main objectives of my doctoral research were to 1) Identify a set of communication-based predictors (i.e., acoustic and nonverbal communication measures) of subjective ratings related to gender attribution; and 2) Explore relationships between communication characteristics and self-rated outcomes of femininity, communication satisfaction, and quality of life (QoL) for transgender women.Methods: The objectives of my doctoral research were met through the completion of four studies. Data collection for all four studies occurred at one time, across two phases. In the first phase, communication and QoL data were collected from a group of transgender women and cisgender communicators (n = 40). The communicators’ voices and gestures were captured during a cartoon retell task via simultaneous acoustic and motion-capture recordings. A unique constellation of 11 acoustic and six gestural variables subsequently were measured in 30-45 second samples of these recordings or in two standard speech tasks recorded during the same data collection session. In the second phase of data collection, a group of raters (n = 20) provided gender attribution and masculinity-femininity ratings for each communicator. These ratings were based on samples of the cartoon description recordings presented in three modes: audio only (i.e., audio track), visual only (i.e., point-light display), and audiovisual (i.e., audio track and point-light display). Raters also rated vocal naturalness in the audio-only condition. The first study identified a set of acoustic predictors of gender attribution, masculinity-femininity, and vocal naturalness ratings obtained in the audio-only presentation mode. The second study identified a set of communication-based (i.e., acoustic and gestural) predictors of masculinity-femininity ratings obtained in the audiovisual presentation mode. That study also explored differences in the perceptual ratings as a function of audio, visual, or audiovisual modes. The third study explored relationships between the set of communication variables and self-rated femininity, communication satisfaction, and QoL for the transgender women participants (n = 20). The fourth study investigated differences in motion-based nonverbal communication behaviors between groups based on gender attribution and gender positioning. Results: Significant predictors of masculinity-femininity ratings in audio and audiovisual modes included speaking fundamental frequency (fo) (p < .001; p <.001), average formant frequency (p = .001; p = .006), and sound pressure level (SPL) (p = .001; p = .001). Fo was the sole predictor of gender attribution ratings in the audio-only mode (p = .047), and fo (p = .002), average formant frequency (p = .001), and rate of speech (p .022) were identified as significant predictors of vocal naturalness ratings. Masculinity-femininity ratings obtained in the audio-only mode were significantly more feminine than those made in the audiovisual mode (p < .001). Visual only mode masculinity-femininity ratings were not reliable. Three significant relationships were revealed between the communication variables and subjective ratings made by the transgender women participants: 1) Use of palm-up hand gestures was negatively related to gestural femininity ratings (rs = -.462, p = .040); 2) Use of palm-up hand gestures was negatively related to overall communication satisfaction (rs = -.572, p = .008); and 3) Mean semitone range across utterances was positively related to overall QoL (r = .463, p = .040). Finally, cisgender women used vertical head movements (e.g., nodding) significantly more than transgender women [F(2,36) = 5.06, p = .012]. Conclusions: The results of my doctoral research advanced our understanding of the ways in which voice and communication characteristics contribute to gender presentations and attributions, and how they relate to subjective ratings of femininity, communication satisfaction, and QoL for transgender women. Together, these studies add to the growing evidence base informing voice and communication modification training and, ultimately, have the potential to positively impact quality of life and life participation outcomes for transgender and gender diverse people.

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    Doctor of Philosophy
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