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Feel the power of that deep and resonant voice!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

Remember our Simple Jury Persuasion post on channeling James Earl Jones? Well, here’s another good reason to use a deep and resonant voice! And (of course) it’s backed up by research published in a peer reviewed journal.

As you may recall, earlier research found that women are particularly prone to remember information given to them in a deep voice.  So there are reasons to use your own deep voice or to pluck a baritone associate from obscurity to gain practice in the courtroom. But now, we have information that there is benefit to the speaker with that deep voice as well as persuasive power for the listener.

Researchers knew from the literature on embodied cognition that when we speak, we influence not only others but we also feed our own reaction. For example, making sounds of distress, joy, sadness or anger often results in corresponding emotions within. They were also interested in the relationship of hearing a low voice and corresponding assumptions of the speaker being powerful. They wondered what would happen if they had research participants either raise their voice pitch (i.e., speak higher) or lower their voice pitch (i.e., speak in a lower tone than usual).

And the results? When you speak in tone lower than your usual voice pitch, you feel more powerful and you think more abstractly! When research participants listened to someone else speaking in a low voice, it had no influence on their own feelings of power or ability to think abstractly. They had to actually be doing the speaking themselves. In other words, when your voice drops in tone (not just in volume), not only do others pay closer attention, but you measure your words more meaningfully as well.

“The present results imply that when one needs to be powerful (for instance, when being placed in a high-power role or when trying to persuade others), lowering one’s voice is sufficient to feel and think like a powerful person and may help to get the job done.”

While we don’t necessarily recommend you have a special “deep and resonant courtroom-only voice”–there are actors and news anchors who have a special voice they use for certain situations. The point is that when you hear that deeper voice emanating from yourself, you feel more powerful and think more abstractly.

It’s an intriguing idea for courtroom performance–but would likely be a less useful and strategic tool for female attorneys. Women can still tilt heads and strike poses though so a deep voice isn’t everything!  It will be interesting to see whether this same result is seen in research about women.  Overall though, ditzy or flighty characters in movies and television are usually played by people with higher (even squeaky) voices, while gravitas is typically represented by lower (baritone or alto) voices.

Stel, M., van Dijk, E., Smith, P., van Dijk, W., & Djalal, F. (2011). Lowering the Pitch of Your Voice Makes You Feel More Powerful and Think More Abstractly. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550611427610


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