Volume 43, Issue 6 (November 1998)
Production of Intoxication States by Actors: Perception by Lay Listeners
The effects of ingesting ethanol have been shown to be somewhat variable in humans; there appear to be but few universals. Yet, questions about intoxication often are asked by law enforcement personnel (especially relative to DUI), clinicians and various individuals in social settings. A key question: Is it possible to determine if a person is intoxicated by observing them in some manner? A closely associated one: Can speech be used for that purpose? Two of the many issues related to the second of these questions involve the possibility that (1) speakers, especially actors, can effectively mimic the speech of intoxicated individuals, and (2) they may be able to volitionally reduce any speech degradation which results from intoxication. The approach used to test these two questions tasked auditors to determine if these simulations were possible. To this end, young, healthy actors chosen on the basis of a large number of selection criteria were asked to produce several types of controlled utterances (1) during a learning phase, (2) when sober, (3) at three simulated levels of intoxication (mildly, legally and severely drunk), (4) during actual, and parallel, levels of intoxication, and (5) at the highest intoxication level attained but when attempting to sound completely sober. Two aural-perceptual studies were conducted: both involved counterbalanced ABX procedures where each subject was paired with him/herself. Listeners were normally hearing university students drawn from undergraduate phonetics and linguistics courses. In the first study, they rated the actors as being more intoxicated—when they actually were sober but simulating drunkenness—88% more often than when they actually were intoxicated. In the second study, they were judged as sounding less inebriated when attempting to sound sober (than they actually were) 61% of the time. These relationships would appear to impact a number of situations; one of special importance would be the detection of intoxication in motorists.