Want to know who is winning a match at Wimbledon without looking at score or paying attention to the telly? New research suggests the fate of a tennis player is revealed by their grunts.
Scientists at the University of Sussex, including doctoral researcher and tennis team captain Jordan Raine, analyzed television footage from 50 matches between top-30 players. Their analysis wasn't concerned with the visual details. Instead, scientists measured each match's sonic qualities -- specifically grunting during serves, as well as backhand and forehand shots.
Researchers, including mammal communication experts David Reby and Kasia Pisanski, measured the pitch of grunts, while noting the time and score of the match, as well as the ultimate outcome.
Though grunt pitch uniformly grows higher as a match progresses, the study's findings -- published this week in the journal Animal Behaviour -- showed match winners tend to maintain a lower pitch throughout the match than match losers.
"This suggests that this shift in pitch is not due to short-term changes in scoreboard dominance, but instead, may reflect longer term physiological or psychological factors that may manifest even before the match," Raine said in a news release. "These factors could include previous encounters, form, world ranking, fatigue, and injuries."
Another revelation suggests professional tennis players are revealing their mental state -- and their position of perceived strength or weakness -- in the pitch of their grunts. When tennis players were played short grunt sequences without any additional information, they were able to predict the likely winner and loser.
"As with other mammal calls, the acoustic structure of human grunts contains information that may help us to infer contest outcome," Reby said.
"Future research is set to look at whether other human vocalizations, such as aggressive roars and fear screams, convey further clues about the evolution of human vocal behavior," Pisanski said.
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