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Neuropsych

Your voice might reveal personality traits

The way you speak might reveal a lot about you, such as your willingness to engage in casual sex.

JOSEP LAGO via Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • A new study finds a deeper voice is associated with self-reported extraversion, dominance, and casual sex.
  • It was the first study on the topic to objectively measure voice pitch.
  • The authors suggest that hormones like testosterone might explain their findings.

We make snap decisions about other people based on information that we can gather quickly. One of the many ways that we do this is by making bold conclusions about other people’s personalities based on their voices alone. Various studies demonstrate that people associate a deep voice with dominance, but those with higher pitched voices are perceived as nervous or neurotic. Popular culture seems toagree with and reinforce thesestereotypes.

Are these perceptions accurate? Maybe. A new study by an international team of researchers with the goal of more accurately determining what our voices reveal about us has demonstrated that there is some connection between how we sound and who we think we are.

The voice-personality connection

Lead author Dr. Julia Stern of the University of Göttingen explained:

“Even if we just hear someone’s voice without any visual clues — for instance on the phone — we know pretty soon whether we’re talking to a man, a woman, a child, or an older person. We can pick up on whether the person sounds interested, friendly, sad, nervous, or whether they have an attractive voice. We also start to make assumptions about trust and dominance. The first step was to investigate whether voices are, indeed, related to people’s personality.”

The study included data from 2,000 people from four countries involved in eleven previous independent studies focused on other questions. Each of these studies involved some kind of self-reporting of personality traits and vocal recordings. The recordings were analyzed with Praat, software that determined the frequencies of the participants’ speaking voices.

The study is the largest ever conducted on the topic and the first to use an objective measure of pitch rather than subjective rankings such as “high pitched” or “deep.” Each participant’s vocal pitch was then compared to the self-reported personality data they provided.

Pitch perfect

The findings associated self-reported levels of dominant tendencies, extroversion, and increased interest in and acceptance of sociosexuality (casual sex or sex outside of a relationship) with a lower pitched voice. This was true for men and women of any age. The findings were in line with the previous, less robust studies on the subject.

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Other stereotypes, like if a higher pitched voice hints at neuroticism, openness to new experiences, or agreeableness, were impossible to determine with the data athand.

Voice isn’t everything

It should be remembered that the personality traits that this study associates with vocal pitch are self-reported, so there are some serious limitations. For instance, it is entirely possible that vocal pitch is associated with thinking you’re extroverted when you actually aren’t. Furthermore, all four countries in the study are WEIRD, so the findings probably cannot be universalized.

Additionally, there are plenty of examples of people for whom the voice-personality link doesn’t apply. For example, Teddy Roosevelt, an extremely extroverted, dominating man, had a fairly high pitched voice.

The authors do speculate that there could be a connection between testosterone levels in men, their vocal pitch, and their perceived level of dominance that would be supported by previousstudies. However, they have no hypothesis explaining why that same relationship exists for women.

The authors suggest that further studies in this area could focus on finding a possible physical connection between these traits and vocal pitch and to determine if they hold for traits which are not self-reported.


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