On the tip of your tongue - how does your voice affect what people think of you?

Do people really judge you by your voice?

So, you’ve worked out what you’re going to say. But have you given any thought to how you’re going to say it?

In basic terms, the human voice is a form of controlled breathing. A finely controlled flow of air is directed at the larynx (voice box). The sound is then shaped by everything above that: the jaw, tongue, teeth and lips; this forms a voice that is unique to every person. The human voice is one of the most complex sounds in nature; even macaques and baboons, who have the most similar vocal structure and brain to us, can’t produce words in the way we do.

Obviously, different people have very different voices. This can depend on physical things, such as the size of someone’s vocal cords, the shape of their body and the position of their tongue. These can affect pitch, volume and tone. The sound of our voice can also depend on who we hear most and our surroundings as we grow up and learn to talk. However, our voices are also partly controlled by our brains and often change depending on who we’re talking to. For example, when spending time with our family, our voice might change and start to sound like theirs, or if we’re talking to someone we want to impress, we might subconsciously change the pitch or tone of our voice or even our vocabulary to be more similar to theirs.

Our voices can also affect what others think of us. In fact, research suggests that up to 38 per cent of someone’s first impression of you is formed by your voice. For example, people who use a larger range of pitch are perceived as more trustworthy. Scientists believe this is because this mimics the sing-song voices people such as parents and grandparents may have used to talk to us when we were learning to speak as a young child. Unsurprisingly, we also perceive people who sound like people we know and like as more trustworthy too. Characteristics of the voice alone can also imply dominance (or lack of), attractiveness and socioeconomic status. These impressions are also mainly incorrect. This is something you may have noticed if you’ve ever seen a picture of someone whose voice you’ve only ever heard, such as a radio presenter, and felt surprised at how different they looked from what you had imagined.

So, I guess the next time we want to impress someone new, we should talk to them like they’re a baby whilst mimicking their best friend? Feel free to give it a try...

Ruby V