Social Status of Listener Alters Our Voice

Individuals can obtain high social status through dominance (using force and intimidation) or through prestige (by being knowledgeable and skillful).

Social Status of Listener Alters Our Voice
Image Credit: Public Domain

A new research by the scientists from the University of Stirling suggests that individuals’ vocal characteristics particularly pitch is altered in response to people of different social status. People usually tend to change the pitch of their voice depending on who they are talking to, and how dominant they feel.

The study suggests that while talking to individuals with higher status, people tend to talk using a higher pitch.

Dr. Viktoria Mileva, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Stirling, said, “A deep, masculine voice sounds dominant, especially in men, while 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. This may be a signal of submissiveness, to show the listener that you are not a threat, and to avoid possible confrontations.”

“These changes in our speech may be conscious or unconscious but voice characteristics appear to be an important way to communicate social status. We found both men and women alter their pitch in response to people they think are dominant and prestigious.”

In the study, scientists asked 48 participants to perform a simulated job interview task. Participants were tested within-subject differences like dominant, prestigious, and neutral employers (targets) while responding to questions which were classified as introductory, personal, and interpersonal.

They found that participants who think they are dominant, less likely to vary their pitch. Such participants were more likely to use methods like manipulation, coercion, and intimidation to acquire social status. But they were found as speaking in a lower tone when talking to someone of a high social status.

During the task, the participants lowered the pitch of their voice most in response to the more complex, interpersonal questions especially while describing a conflict situation to an interviewer.

Dr. Mileva said, “Meanwhile, Signals and perceptions of human social status have an effect on virtually every human interaction, ranging from morphological characteristics. For example, face shape,  body posture, specific language use, facial expressions, and voices.”

“Understanding what these signals are, and what their effects are, will help us comprehend an essential part of human behavior.”

Individuals who rate themselves as high in prestige. They believe people look up to them and value their opinions. Thus granting them social status does not merely change how loud they are speaking, no matter who they are speaking to. This may signal that they are calmer and in control of a situation.