Detection of imitated voices, who are reliable earwitnesses?


  • Erik J. Eriksson Umeå University
  • Kirk P. H. Sullivan Umeå University
  • Elisabeth Zetterholm Växjö University
  • Peter E. Czigler Örebro University
  • James Green Otago University
  • Åsa Skagerstrand Örebro University
  • Jan van Doorn Umeå University



eatwitness, reliability, hearing, age, dialect, imitation


Factors affecting an individual's ability to identify people aurally are of forensic importance. This paper investigates how topic, dialect, gender, age, and hearing status affect detection of an imitated voice. Two imitations of the same person, but on different topics, were used as familiarization voices. One topic was associated with this person, and the other was not. Using discrimination sensitivity (d-prime) it was found that topic had a significant impact on d', as did age (but only when the topic was not associated with the imitated person). Dialect, gender and hearing status were not significant. The older group of listeners was less convinced by the imitations and in particular the one not associated with the person being imitated. These results imply that the validity of earwitness evidence is negatively affected by age and topic.

Author Biographies

  • Erik J. Eriksson, Umeå University
    Erik Eriksson has a Masters degree in Cognitive Science from Umeå University and completed his PhD "Factors in Speaker Recognition" in May 2007.
  • Kirk P. H. Sullivan, Umeå University
    Kirk P H Sullivan is currently Professor of Linguistics at Umeå University, Sweden. He is also Docent in Phonetics and in Educational Work. He is a graduate of the Universitiies of Wales, Loughborough and Southampton and was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Otago, NZ, prior to taking his current position in 1994. His research interests include literacy, second and foreign language acquisition and forensic linguistics
  • Elisabeth Zetterholm, Växjö University
    Dr Zetterholm’s thesis and main research area is about voice imitation and voice identification focusing on forensic phonetics. The variability in the human voice as well as individual features that is hard to change in the voice and speech, are some of the most interesting research questions. She currently works at Växjö, Sweden.
  • Peter E. Czigler, Örebro University
    Peter Czigler is currently Senior Lecturer in Hearing Sciences at Örebro University, Sweden. His doctoral thesis at Umeå University, Sweden, focused on an acoustic description of syllable internal timing in Swedish. In his recent research is in the field of health communication where he is investigating aspects of multimodal interaction between hearing impaired patients during sessions of audiological consultations and in forensic phonetics.
  • James Green, Otago University
    James Green (PhD, Otago) is a lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, with a background in language and social psychology. His current research interests include healthcare communication, direct-to-consumer advertising, and how people think about medicines. His recent publications include 'The distinctive flavour of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc: Sensory characterisation by wine professionals' (Food Quality and Preference) and 'Choosing a course of study and career in pharmacy - student attitudes and intentions across three years at a New Zealand School of Pharmacy' (Pharmacy Education). He has a personal interest in Forensic Phonetics and Linguistics.
  • Åsa Skagerstrand, Örebro University
    Åsa Skagerstrand, authorized audiologist, lecturer in Hearing Science and doctoral student in Disability Research at Örebro University.
  • Jan van Doorn, Umeå University
    Jan van Doorn is currently Professor in Speech Language Pathology at Umeå University, Sweden. Her research work has concentrated on a variety of applications of acoustic speech analysis. Her doctoral studies at the University of New South Wales investigated acoustic features of cerebral palsied speech. Since then she has used acoustic speech analysis to derive information about speech production and perception from acoustic speech recordings of both normal and disordered speech.






How to Cite

Eriksson, E. J., Sullivan, K. P. H., Zetterholm, E., Czigler, P. E., Green, J., Skagerstrand, Åsa, & van Doorn, J. (2010). Detection of imitated voices, who are reliable earwitnesses?. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 17(1), 25-44.