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Sep 4, 2015

Your Voice Says It All

How surprised would you be to discover that research on the human voice reveals that people prefer to hear information delivered by deeper voices? I have to say I was very surprised to discover this, particularly when you consider that most successful and popular singers are more often Tenors and Sopranos. But it's not quite as simple as just high and low when it comes to the sound, and specifically the pitch ( or musicality) of your voice.

Apparently vocal researchers have found that people with lower voices are perceived as more dominant, knowledgeable and attractive. When participants are asked to describe the owner of a lower voice they often guess that the person speaking is large and strong physically. Whereas those with higher voices are perceived as smaller, more submissive, creative, energetic but also more benevolent! Rosario Signorello at UCLA researched politicians and how they manipulate their voices to create an effect.

He said: "Political leaders have the ability to manipulate their voices in order to be recognised as dominant figures. The internal characteristics of a dynamic or charming leader are always perceived through voice. Leaders use a charismatic voice to arouse an emotional state in their listeners,"

There is also a cultural element when it comes to preferences of voice. For example, French participants preferred leaders with a medium vocal pitch, perceiving them as prudent, calm, trustworthy and fair. Whereas the Italian participants preferred a lower pitch, viewing this as a sign of authority, determination and even a little menacing.

Another study showed that lower voices are more easy to listen to and understand, particularly when we're trying to learn something. Psychiatrist Michael Hunter at the University of Sheffield monitored the brain activity of participants as they listened to voice recordings and found they processed lower pitched voices in a different region of the brain from high ones. Higher voices seem to stimulate an area of the brain used for processing complex sounds, like music and this is closely connected to the emotional centres. Lower voices activate the "mind's eye," a region of the brain used for visual imagery and the conceptual centres. This means that perhaps we become overstimulated emotionally when listening to a higher, musical voice and could get distracted from the content of what they're actually saying.

In another study published in 'Evolution and Human Behavior' researchers changed the pitch of archive recordings of US presidents, creating lower and higher versions of each voice. They then played the recordings to a group of people and asked them to rate the speakers' attractiveness, leadership potential, honesty, intelligence and dominance. They also asked subjects which version of the voice they would prefer to vote for. Every participant in the test group preferred the lower- pitched voices.The research suggested that it's actually the 'sound' of dominance that has the biggest impact on voter's decisions.

Finally, in the UK a poll was commissioned by Post Office Telecoms and carried out by University of Sheffield linguist Andrew Linn. Participants were played a mix of 50 male and female voices. The perfect female voice was revealed to be a combination of Mariella Frostrup and Dame Judi Dench and Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon were the most popular male voices. In the same study researchers came up with a mathematical formula for the perfect voice. Apparently we should speak no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences. So, if you want people to listen more intently to your dulcet tones, get your stop watch out and start practicing lowering, pausing and pacing your vocal delivery.