New finding has implications for scientists designing mobile audio interfaces

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon researchers have discovered that when people converse with text-to-speech (TTS) computer systems, they substantially change their speech to sound like the computer -- what's known as speech convergence. In addition, people will readapt their voice to each new text-to-speech voice they hear. The findings are important for scientists who are designing new mobile audio interfaces, according to Sharon Oviatt, Ph.D., an experimental psychologist who led the study at Oregon Health & Science University's OGI School of Science & Engineering.

"Human speech is always a variable," said Oviatt, who co-directs the Center for Human-Computer Communication in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at OGI. "We discovered that people subconsciously tailor their voice to the computer's voice. So, for example, if the computer voice is talking more quietly, the person interacting with the computer will talk more quietly. This is a major new source of variability in users' spoken language to computers, which is opening up new scientific directions for mobile audio interface design."

As part of her study, funded by the National Science Foundation, Oviatt and her graduate students asked students aged 7 to 10 to use a special handheld computer to talk with a variety of digital marine animals as they learned marine biology. Students in the "I SEE!" Program (Immersive Science Education for Elementary Kids) used the handheld computer to speak directly to or write with a pen onto a screen questions for animated software characters. The marine animals answered each question using text-to-speech output, along with animated movement.

Four different TTS voices were used to determine whether the children accommodated their own voices (amplitude, duration, pitch, etc.) to more closely match the TTS output from the computer characters, or what is called speech convergence. Speech convergence is known to occur in human-human communication, bu

Contact: Sydney Clevenger
Oregon Health & Science University

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