LeadershipScience & Tech

How and Why Voice Pitch Matters to Voters

We know that what a person says is vital to our perception of them, but the way a person says something is just as important. Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump. Research has suggested that candidates with lower-pitched voices are likely to secure more votes than those with higher-pitched voices. Margaret Thatcher, for example, was trained on how to change the pitch of her voice before becoming the UK’s first female Prime Minister. According to her biographer, Charles Moore, Thatcher’s ability to modulate her voice may have won her the ministry. This video shows the before and after of Thatcher’s voice manipulation.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Miami and Duke revealed that a candidate’s voice pitch may influence voters. In the study, 400 men and 400 women voted for one of two candidates in 90 mock elections. The researchers played five pairs of voices saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November.” Each pair of voices was from the same person, but had been manipulated so that one was lower-pitched, while the other was higher-pitched. Participants selected which candidate of the pair they would vote for. The candidate with the lower-pitched voice, in each pair, received more votes.

This directly suggests that the pitch of a person’s voice can provide cues to people that inform their perceptions of them. Males with lower-pitched voices are perceived as more attractive, stronger (physically) and dominant. Women with lower-pitched voices are thought of as more dominant, while those with higher-pitched voices are considered more attractive. These impressions make sense from an evolutionary perspective. Consider this: during a woman’s menstrual cycle, her voice becomes higher-pitched at the time she is likely to conceive. A woman with a higher-pitched voice is therefore considered more attractive because, evolutionarily, it has been considered a sign of fertility.

How and Why Voice Pitch Matters to Voters

Women with lower voices tend to be seen as less feminine and more dominant, some research suggests. (Image Source: AR Insider Pro)

Similarly, men with lower-pitched voices tend to have higher concentrations of testosterone in their circulation. In the evolution of humans, this may have been an important factor for females who chose their mating partners based on qualities that they wanted to pass on to their children.

Researchers wanted to know how well the results from their study applied to real-life elections. After analyzing 2012 US House elections, researchers agreed: the pitch of a candidate’s voice is associated with voter outcomes, so that those with lower-pitched voices (male or female) are more likely to secure votes.

But when males are up against females, the pitch of their voices has a more complicated effect on voter outcome. When a male is running against another male, the male with the lower-pitched voice (by about 40Hz) is more likely to win. When a male is running against a female, however, the opposite is true — if the male has the lower-pitched voice, he is more likely to lose against the female.

But researchers don’t yet know why this might be.

Researchers conducted another study using pairs of voices, as before, but this time, they paid close attention to the type of leadership position being sought after. They asked participants to vote for a school board member and the president of a voluntary service organization, both of which are primarily women-dominated.

How and Why Voice Pitch Matters to Voters

Image Source: Beyond the Fourth Floor Blog

Overall, participants voted for women with deeper voices for both positions.

The researchers also asked participants to vote between men with different pitched voices for each of the two positions. Male participants were more likely to vote for men with deeper voices, while females did not seem to care about the pitch of voice of the candidates. This study tells us that, depending on the type of leadership position, voice pitch may or may not matter.

At the same time, women seem to have a biased preference for female candidates with deeper voices. In another study, male voters seemed to prefer woman with a higher pitched voice to one with a deeper voice. A woman with a higher pitched voice may be considered more attractive than a woman with a deeper voice. In this case, a lower pitch may not confer any advantage to the female candidate, at least among male voters.

The association of deeper voices with leadership may also be a sign of our notions of gender identity. Japanese women, for example, tend to have much deeper voices, now, than they did in the nineties. They might be responding to the social pressures to be authoritative and dominating.

Although the candidates ranged in age, those most likely to win were in their 40s or 50s. The candidates were between 30 and 70 years of age. The study results, therefore, demonstrate that voters prefer candidates who are not too young, perhaps that might be a sign of inexperience, or too old, possibly because that might be a sign of incompetence and frailty.


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