Originally published by Douglas Keene.
Almost five years ago, we wrote about research saying men with deep voices were more persuasive. Science has moved forward though and now, women can also be more persuasive when using a deeper voice. Some call it a “sultry voice”. New work tells us your voice doesn’t have be a deep and resonant baritone to be persuasive—you simply have to lower your speech pitch over the course of your interactions with others to be more persuasive. And—it works for both genders! If you don’t want to read the article itself, Scientific American has a nice summary that you can either listen to as a podcast or just read the full transcript.
Basically what the researchers did is recorded 191 undergraduate students (Canadian subjects, ranging in age from 17 to 52 years, 54% male) who debated in small groups about the equipment most useful after a disaster on the moon. [This is an old team-building exercise found on the internet under many different names but officially called “Lost on the Moon”] You are told you have crash landed on the moon and need to identify what items present in the spaceship will be most useful. The recorded discussions for the first study were held in same sex groups ranging in size from four to seven participants.
Researchers also did a second study online with 274 participants (ranging in age from 15 to 61 years and 60.58% female)—181 were recruited from a “large Canadian university and the remaining 93 participants were recruited from an online database of research volunteers. The reason for the second experiment being online was so they could be sure there were not visual factors interfering with persuasion by lowered voice pitch.
Results from both studies (that is, in person or online where the voice was heard but the person’s appearance was not seen) were consistent. Those participants, both male and female, who lowered their voice pitch during the negotiations required to rank 15 items in order of importance for survival on the moon were seen as more persuasive and given a higher “social ranking” in the group than those who kept their voice pitch the same or raised it.
It is a victory for women. You do not have to have a deep baritone voice in order to be persuasive. It is more a matter of shifting tonal ranges for effect—just go into negotiations or discussion with your ‘regular’ voice and then, over the course of discussion, lower your voice. Of course, it’s hard to recreate this finding in the real world since you are rarely negotiating in single-sex groups. On the other hand, it’s an interesting strategy to try. Does lowering your voice during day-to-day decision-making make you more persuasive? If it does, you might try it in lower stakes situations at work and if it still works try it out in other situations as well!
Note: If at any point during your practice, you are challenged about “faking” a deeper voice—you may need a bit more practice! It can also be thought to connote silly dramatics when overdone.
Cheng JT, Tracy JL, Ho S, & Henrich J (2016). Listen, follow me: Dynamic vocal signals of dominance predict emergent social rank in humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 145 (5), 536-47 PMID: 27019023
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- Feel the power of that deep and resonant voice!
- Here’s why that movie wasn’t called ’12 Angry Women’
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