jueves, 11 de diciembre de 2014

Do we prefer the low or high voices?

By Prof. José Manuel Petisco Rodríguez

  We all know the importance of the voice in any communicative act.  Verbal and non verbal information is transmitted through the voice, but during the message decipher process, the nonverbal paralinguistic component is unnoticed in most cases, because the attention goes to other aspects such as words, facial expressions or gestures.
            The influence of personal emotions in the voice, and its possible applications, has been studied for a long time. Darwing himself (1872) in his book “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” described how emotions affect animal behavior and language.
            In nowadays we all know that the persons’ tone of voice can give us information about the mood, psychological state and even their mental health.
            But, what parts of speech are critical for identifying emotions? According to various researchers, speech components such as, fundamental frequency (f0), duration, and voice quality are important to identify the emotions that any person is feeling . We will not focus just on components but will discuss some aspects related to the voice.
            We all are constantly hearing radio and TV news about deaths caused by natural disasters, terrorist attacks and wars. Do we ever have realized how the voice of the news reader becomes more severe at the time of reading that news? Let us think about shocking and impressive news, such as a plane crash or a terrorist attack with many victims. News readers are not oblivious to the emotions transmitted by images and statements of the witnesses who have carried out these misfortunes or tragedies. Unwittingly, through the voice tone, lower at that moment, they convey us that are affected by the event. So we can say that a person´s voice, whether male or female, becomes more serious when talking about a topic that make to be sad or depressed.
            On the other hand, the deep voice is associated with a more manly voice, and turns out to read radio news, for instance, is not allowed under any circumstances to be narrated by a high voice man.  At least that’s one of the conclusions that have been reached in some comparative studies on preferences for a male or female voice in radio news (Rodero, 2001). According to the author, a serious voice tone is the decisive quality of a male voice that gratify us, but is not the decisive quality of a female voice in the media, where the experimental subjects didn´t show so radical about these voices (were not reported to be unpleasant, but inconvenient for radio information). It also happens that the deep male voice was always associated with positives physical and psychological male profiles: beauty, heroism, gallantry, security, etc. However, the sharpest male voices were not tolerated in the study, in the same way that didn´t represent a favorable social image neither. A man high voice, being more typical of female and children, tends to be judge as an effeminate or childish voice, associating such voices to unfavorable male profiles.
            It also happens that a deep voice transmits more security than a higher voice, perhaps due to this aspect Margaret Thatcher, in her first stint as The First Lady, educated her voice to avoid very high tones and thus convey greater sense of security.  “Mrs. Thatcher’s voice, as is known, was very acute, and she was convinced to lower the voice stridency, supported by a speech therapist”, recalls one of the Iron Lady political advisors.
                Other authors argue that the deep voice is used in seduction to simulate and stimulate desire. Cyr (2005) states that the voice of a sexually aroused person becomes more serious, and also affirms that seducers deliberately use a more serious voice tone to simulate and arouse desire.
            Other studies suggest that some vocal traits associated with testosterone have influence in the chances improvement of finding a couple for men. A healthy and cared voice would improve or relationships and would help us to strengthen our professional performance (Puts, Jones, and DeBruine, 2010).
            Having regard to the possible advantages of a deep voice, how should we interpret that at some point the voice tone of a person becomes more acute? In this regard we know that when someone is experiencing a stressful situation, his body and face are likely to show signs of stress or nervousness and even his voice sounds also tense. We all know that in situations of intense emotions, a person’s voice tone becomes more acute, since this tension also causes the fundamental frequency (f0) to be raised. This is because the greater emotional intensity causes an increase in the vocal cords tension (laryngeal muscles are connected), so the sounds emitted will be acuter.
            As a conclusion, it can be assumed that voice nuances can convey a lot of information related to the emotional state of a person.


Cyr, M.-F. (2005). ¿Verdad o mentira?: los cuatro códigos para detectar el engaño. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica.

Darwin, C. (1872). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. New York: Appleton and Company.

Petisco, J. M. (2 de Noviembre de 2013). La comunicación en el aula. Obtenido de http://aulacomunicacionnoverbal.blogspot.com.es

Petisco, J., & Rafael, L. (2014). Sometimes voice tells more than words. In press.

Puts, D., Jones, B., & Lisa, D. (2012). Sexual selection on human faces and voices. J. Sex Res, 49(2-3), 227-243.

Rodero, E. (noviembre de 2001). El tono de la voz masculina y femenina en los informativos radiofónicos: un análisis comparativo. Comunicación presentada en el Congreso Internacional Mujeres, Hombres y Medios de Comunicación. Valladolid.

Rodero, E. (2001). Los principales errores que debe evitar todo locutor de informativos radiofónicos: Un estudio práctico. En P. Martínez Costa, Reinventar la radio (págs. 307-315). Pamplona: Ediciones Eunate.

[1] Ferdinand Mount, author of the best progeny British and political advisor of Thatcher.