We often say that we can understand the nature of someone as soon as we hear him or her speak. Indeed, according to a new study published in the online resource «PLoS One», something like that can be true, since it takes less than a second to figure out one’s personality traits based only on his voice.
It is known that the voice transmits sensory signals that betray one’s gender, age, and even the physical condition or certain personality traits. Dr Phil McAleer and his colleagues from the University of Glasgow decided to find out if we can get an immediate impression by a person’s voice.
The voice experiment
In order to find an answer to their question, the researchers recorded 64 people reading a text. Then they isolated the word ‘hello‘, which was used during the next phase of the experiment, when 320 people were asked to listen to this recording and rate the voices they heard on a scale from 1 to 9 concerning 10 different personality traits, including reliability, dominance and attractiveness.
“We were surprised by how similar the answers of the 320 volunteers were,” noted Dr. McAleer. “On a scale in which 0 corresponded to the lack of a personality trait and 1 – to the full association with this trait, the final score for all the 10 traits reached 0.92, which means that most volunteers agreed to a large extent on how each voice represented each personality trait.”
It makes sense why the decisions about one’s personality are taken so quickly, notes Dr. McAleer. “There’s an evolutionary explanation for this: we all want to know quickly whether we can trust someone in order to decide if we should approach him, or rather run away. It would be a big waste of time if we were taking too long to come to this conclusion.”
The impression we make on others through our voice seems to be defined by different factors: for example, the tone of the voice affects how reliable the person shows. “A person who raises his voice seems more reliable,” says Dr. McAleer.
‘Manageable’ aspects of voice
In accordance with the researcher, it is possible to change some aspects of our voice. “There is a rumor that Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth were trained to make their voices sound more dominant.” However, some other aspects of one’s voice are less “manageable”. For example, the shape of the vocal tract significantly affects how dominant the voice sounds.
The research team hopes that the results of the study can be used to create an artificial voice that could help people who lost their own due to a medical problem and make the voices of navigation systems and robots more attractive. “It may also be used by companies in choosing the best candidate for certain job positions. For example, no one would want a call center employee with a voice that shows unreliability,” concludes Dr. McAleer.
Published in Helios Plus on March 19, 2014