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Social status of a listener may alter our voice

News Agencies | Updated on: 30 June 2017, 15:55 IST

People tend to change the pitch of their voice depending on who they are talking to, and how dominant they feel, a study has found.

In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, when participants went through a simulated job interview task, their vocal characteristics, particularly pitch, were altered in response to people of different social status.

Further, regardless of self-perceived social status, both men and women were found to use a higher pitch while answering to people they think are dominant, prestigious and have a higher social status.

While "a deep, masculine voice sounds dominant, especially in men, the opposite is true of a higher pitched voice. So, if someone perceives their interviewer to be more dominant than them, they raise their pitch", said Viktoria Mileva, postdoctoral student at the University of Stirling in England.

"This may be a signal of submissiveness, to show the listener that you are not a threat, and to avoid possible confrontations," Mileva added.

Participants who think they are dominant -- who use methods like manipulation, coercion, and intimidation to acquire social status -- are less likely to vary their pitch and will speak in a lower tone when talking to someone of a higher social status.

Conversely, individuals who rate themselves as high in prestige -- they believe people look up to them and value their opinions, thereby granting them social status -- do not change how loud they are speaking, no matter who they are speaking to.

This may signal that they are more calm and in control of a situation, the researchers said.

"These changes in our speech may be conscious or unconscious but voice characteristics appear to be an important way to communicate social status," Mileva added.


First published: 30 June 2017, 15:55 IST