Towards a screening test for earwitnesses

Investigating the individual voice recognition skills of lay listeners


  • Sascha Schäfer University of York
  • Paul Foulkes University of York



(lay) speaker recognition, earwitness testimony, super recognisers, estimator variables, voice parades


The present study explores the feasibility of a screening test for earwitnesses. The underlying assumption is that lay listeners differ in their voice-processing capabilities and might consequently not be equally suited for a standardised voice parade. One hundred British participants took part in an online AX discrimination task with the aim of obtaining a representative sample of the population. For the stimuli, two 10s-long recordings were taken from 48 speakers of the DyViS corpus. Participants differed markedly in recognition accuracy (mean = 75%, range = 50–93.8%). Two potential ‘super recognisers’ were identified as well as four participants at the opposite end of the spectrum. The test serves to establish a baseline for more complex investigations of witness-dependent estimator variables.

Author Biographies

  • Sascha Schäfer, University of York

    Sascha Schäfer is conducting PhD research at the University of York, in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science. His research explores individual differences in the voice-processing capabilities of lay listeners with a particular focus on earwitnesses.

  • Paul Foulkes, University of York

    Paul Foulkes is a Professor in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science at the University of York. His interests are mainly in forensic speech science, sociophonetics and child language development. He has conducted casework in forensic speech science in the UK, Ghana, New Zealand and Sweden.


Aglieri, V., Watson, R., Pernet, C., Latinus, M., Garrido, L. and Belin, P. (2017) The Glasgow Voice Memory Test: assessing the ability to memorize and recognize unfamiliar voices. Behavior Research Methods 49(1): 97–110.

Anwyl-Irvine, A., Dalmaijer, E. S., Hodges, N. and Evershed, J. K. (2021) Realistic precision and accuracy of online experiment platforms, web browsers, and devices. Behavior Research Methods 53(4): 1407–1425.

Atkinson, N. (2015) Variable factors affecting voice identification in forensic contexts [Ph.D. thesis]. University of York.

Bate, S., Portch, E. and Mestry, N. (2021) When two fields collide: identifying ‘super-recognisers’ for neuropsychological and forensic face recognition research. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 74(12): 2154–2164.

Bates D., Mächler M., Bolker B. and Walker S. (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software 67(1): 1–48.

Baumann, O. and Belin, P. (2010) Perceptual scaling of voice identity: common dimensions for different vowels and speakers. Psychological Research 74(1): 110–120.

Beaudry, J. L., Bullard, C. L. and Dolin, J. R. (2014) Estimator variables and eyewitness identification. In G. Bruinsma and D. Weisburd (eds) Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice 1384–1394. New York: Springer.

Boersma, P. and Weenink, D. (2022) Praat: Doing Phonetics by Computer (6.1.15) [computer program].

Bridges, D., Pitiot, A., MacAskill, M. R. and Peirce, J. W. (2020) The timing mega-study: comparing a range of experiment generators, both lab-based and online. PeerJ 8:e9414.

Broeders, A. P. A. and van Amelsvoort, A. G. (1999) Lineup construction for forensic earwitness identification: a practical approach. Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences 1373–1376.

Bull, R., Rathborn, H. and Clifford, B. R. (1983) The voice-recognition accuracy of blind listeners. Perception 12(2): 223–226.

Burton, A. M. (2013) Why has research in face recognition progressed so slowly? The importance of variability. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 66(8): 1467–1485.

Carterette, E. C. and Barnebey, A. (1975) Recognition memory for voices. In A. Cohen and S. G. Nooteboom (eds) Structure and Process in Speech Perception 246–265. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer.

Clifford, B. R. (1980) Voice identification by human listeners: on earwitness reliability. Law and Human Behavior 4(4): 373–394.

Deffenbacher, K. A., Bornstein, B. H., Penrod, S. D. and McGorty, E. K. (2004) A meta-analytic review of the effects of high stress on eyewitness memory. Law and Human Behavior 28(6): 687–706.

Edmond, G., Martire, K. and San Roque, M. (2011) ‘Mere guesswork’: cross-lingual voice comparisons and the jury. Sydney Law Review 33(3): 395–425.

Eriksson, A. and Wretling, P. (1997) How flexible is the human voice? A case study of mimicry. Proceedings of Eurospeech 1997, 1043–1046.

Fleming, D., Giordano, B. L., Caldara, R. and Belin, P. (2014) A language-familiarity effect for speaker discrimination without comprehension. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(38): 13795–13798.

Hammersley, R. and Read, J. D. (1985) The effect of participation in a conversation on recognition and identification of the speakers’ voices. Law and Human Behavior 9(1): 71–81.

Home Office. (2003) Home Office Circular 057/2003 [England and Wales]: Advice on the Use of Voice Identification Parades. London: Crime Reduction and Community Safety Group, Police Leadership and Powers Unit.

Home Office. (2017) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) [England and Wales]: Code D Revised – Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers.

Humble, D., Schweinberger, S. R., Mayer, A., Jesgarzewsky, T. L., Dobel, C. and Zäske, R. (2022) The Jena Voice Learning and Memory Test (JVLMT): a standardized tool for assessing the ability to learn and recognize voices. Behavior Research Methods 55: 1352–1371.

Jarque, C. M. and Bera, A. K. (1987) A test for normality of observations and regression residuals. International Statistical Review / Revue Internationale de Statistique 55(2): 163–172.

Jessen, M. (2012) Phonetische und linguistische Prinzipien des forensischen Stimmenvergleichs. Munich: LINCOM EUROPA.

Johnson, E. K., Westrek, E., Nazzi, T., and Cutler, A. (2011) Infant ability to tell voices apart rests on language experience. Developmental Science 14(5): 1002–1011.

Judicial College. (2023) The Crown Court Compendium [England and Wales] – Part I: Jury and Trial Management and Summing up.

Kerstholt, J. H., Jansen, N. J. M., van Amelsvoort, A. G. and Broeders, A. P. A. (2004) Earwitnesses: effects of speech duration, retention interval and acoustic environment. Applied Cognitive Psychology 18(3): 327–336.

Kerstholt, J. H., Jansen, N. J. M., van Amelsvoort, A. G. and Broeders, A. P. A. (2006) Earwitnesses: effects of accent, retention and telephone. Applied Cognitive Psychology 20(2): 187–197.

Lavan, N., Burton, A. M., Scott, S. K. and McGettigan, C. (2019) Flexible voices: identity perception from variable vocal signals. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 26(1): 90–102.

Legge, G. E., Grosmann, C. and Pieper, C. M. (1984) Learning unfamiliar voices. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 10: 298–303.

Lüdecke, D. (2022) sjPlot: Data Visualisation for Statistics in Social Science (2.8.12) [software package for R].

Macmillan, N. A. (2002) Signal detection theory. In H. Pashler and J. Wixted (eds) Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology: Methodology in Experimental Psychology, vol. 4, 3rd ed. 43–90. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

McAllister, H. A., Bregman, N. J. and Lipscomb, T. J. (1988) Speed estimates by eyewitnesses and earwitnesses: how vulnerable to postevent information? Journal of General Psychology 115: 25–35.

McAllister, H. A., Dale, R. H. I. and Keay, C. E. (1993) Effects of lineup modality on witness credibility. Journal of Social Psychology 133(3): 365–376.

McDougall, K. (2021) Ear-catching versus eye-catching? Some developments and current challenges in earwitness identification evidence. Proceedings of AISV XVII 33–56.

McGehee, F. (1937) The reliability of the identification of the human voice. Journal of General Psychology 17(2): 249–271.

McGehee, F. (1944) An experimental study of voice recognition. Journal of General Psychology 31(1): 53–65.

McGorrery, P. G. and McMahon, M. (2017) A fair ‘hearing’: Earwitness identifications and voice identification parades. International Journal of Evidence and Proof 21(3): 262–286.

Memon, A. and Yarmey, A. D. (1999) Earwitness recall and identification: Comparison of the cognitive interview and the structured interview. Perceptual and Motor Skills 88(3): 797–807.

Mishra, P., Pandey, C. M., Singh, U., Gupta, A., Sahu, C. and Keshri, A. (2019) Descriptive statistics and normality tests for statistical data. Annals of Cardiac Anaesthesia 22(1): 67–72.

Mühl, C., Sheil, O., Jarutyte, L. and Bestelmeyer, P. E. G. (2018) The Bangor Voice Matching Test: A standardized test for the assessment of voice perception ability. Behavior Research Methods 50(6): 2184–2192.

Njie, S., Lavan, N. and McGettigan, C. (2022) Talker and accent familiarity yield advantages for voice identity perception: A voice sorting study. Memory & Cognition 51: 175–187.

Nolan, F. (2003) A recent voice parade. International Journal of Speech Language and the Law 10: 277–291.

Nolan, F., McDougall, K., de Jong, G. and Hudson, T. (2009) The DyViS database: Style-controlled recordings of 100 homogeneous speakers for forensic phonetic research. International Journal of Speech Language and the Law 16(1): 31–57.

Nolan, F., McDougall, K. and Hudson, T. (2011) Some acoustic correlates of perceived (dis)similarity between same-accent voices. Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences 1506–1509.

Öhman, L., Eriksson, A. and Granhag, P. A. (2011) Overhearing the planning of a crime: Do adults outperform children as earwitnesses? Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 26(2): 118–127.

Öhman, L., Eriksson, A. and Granhag, P. A. (2013) Angry voices from the past and present: Effects on adults’ and children’s earwitness memory. Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 10(1): 57–70.

Pautz, N., McDougall, K., Mueller-Johnson, K., Nolan, F., Paver, A. and Smith, H. M. J. (2023) Identifying unfamiliar voices: Examining the system variables of sample duration and parade size. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (online first).

Philippon, A. C., Cherryman, J., Bull, R. and Vrij, A. (2007) Earwitness identification performance: The effect of language, target, deliberate strategies and indirect measures. Applied Cognitive Psychology 21(4): 539–550.

Read, D. and Craik, F. I. M. (1995) Earwitness identification: Some influences on voice recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 1(1): 6–18.

Remez, R. E., Fellowes, J. M. and Rubin, P. E. (1997) Talker identification based on phonetic information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 23(3): 651–666.

Rizopoulos, D. (2006) ltm: An R package for latent variable modeling and Item Response Theory analyses. Journal of Statistical Software 17(5).

Robson, J. (2017) A fair hearing? The use of voice identification parades in criminal investigations in England and Wales. Criminal Law Review 1: 36–50.

Roswandowitz, C., Mathias, S. R., Hintz, F., Kreitewolf, J., Schelinski, S. and von Kriegstein, K. (2014). Two cases of selective developmental voice-recognition impairments. Current Biology 24(19): 2348–2353.

Roswandowitz, C., Schelinski, S. and von Kriegstein, K. (2017) Developmental phonagnosia: Linking neural mechanisms with the behavioural phenotype. NeuroImage 155: 97–112.

Seale-Carlisle, T. M. and Mickes, L. (2016) US line-ups outperform UK line-ups. Royal Society Open Science 3(9).

Semmler, C., Mickes, L., Dunn, J. and Wixted, J. T. (2018) The role of estimator variables in eyewitness identification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 24(3): 400–415.

Shapiro, S. S. and Wilk, M. B. (1965) An analysis of variance test for normality (complete samples). Biometrika 52(3/4): 591–611.

Sherrin, C. (2015) Earwitness evidence: The reliability of voice identifications. Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper Series 11(6): 2–44.

Smith, H. M. J. and Baguley, T. (2014) Unfamiliar voice identification: Effect of post-event information on accuracy and voice ratings. Journal of European Psychology Students 5(1): 59--68.

Smith, H. M. J., Baguley, T. S., Robson, J., Dunn, A. K. and Stacey, P. C. (2019) Forensic voice discrimination by lay listeners: The effect of speech type and background noise on performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology 33(2): 272–287.

Smith, H. M. J., Bird, K., Roeser, J., Robson, J., Braber, N., Wright, D. and Stacey, P. C. (2020) Voice parade procedures: Optimising witness performance. Memory 28(1): 2–17.

Sørensen, M. H. (2012) Voice line-ups: Speakers’ F0 values influence the reliability of voice recognitions. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 19(2): 145–158.

Tomlin, R. J., Stevenage, S. V., and Hammond, S. (2017) Putting the pieces together: Revealing face–voice integration through the facial overshadowing effect. Visual Cognition 25(4–6): 629–643.

van Lancker, D. R. and Canter, G. J. (1982) Impairment of voice and face recognition in patients with hemispheric damage. Brain and Cognition 1(2): 185–195.

Wells, G. L. (1978) Applied eyewitness-testimony research: System variables and estimator variables. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36(12): 1546–1557.

Wester, M. (2012) Talker discrimination across languages. Speech Communication 54(6): 781–790.

Wilding, J. and Cook, S. (2000) Sex differences and individual consistency in voice identification. Perceptual and Motor Skills 91(2): 535–538.

Winters, S. J., Levi, S. V., and Pisoni, D. B. (2008) Identification and discrimination of bilingual talkers across languages. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 123(6): 4524–4538.

Wixted, J. T. and Wells, G. L. (2017) The relationship between eyewitness confidence and identification accuracy: A new synthesis. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 18(1): 10–65.

Yarmey, A. D. (1991) Voice identification over the telephone. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 21(22): 1868–1876.

Yarmey, A. D. (1995) Earwitness speaker identification. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 1: 792–816.

Yarmey, A. D., Yarmey, A. L., Yarmey, M. J. and Parliament, L. (2001) Commonsense beliefs and the identification of familiar voices. Applied Cognitive Psychology 15(3): 283–299.

Zetterholm, E., Sarwar, F., Thorvaldsson, V. and Allwood, C. M. (2012) Earwitnesses: The effect of type of vocal differences on correct identification and confidence accuracy. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 19(2): 219–237.


R v. Flynn & St John [2008] EWCA Crim 970.

Thornton v. Northern Ireland Housing Executive [2010] NIQB 4.






How to Cite

Schäfer, S., & Foulkes, P. (2023). Towards a screening test for earwitnesses: Investigating the individual voice recognition skills of lay listeners. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 30(2), 234-267.