by Nanda Nayak
Vocal communication can serve a variety of purposes in the animal kingdom. Male white bellbirds, for example, attempt to coo females they are interested in by loudly screaming in their face, reaching up to 125 decibels in volume — about as loud as a jackhammer!) Tigers may roar to intimidate competition and establish dominance in hostile situations. But how do voice pitch and loudness correlate with social interaction in humans?
Researchers from the University of Miami examined how an individual’s voice affects situations where societal perception is crucial: elections. It turns out that while having a lower voice-pitch does correlate with higher electability, it has no actual association with leadership ability.
In a randomized experiment, researchers manipulated the pitches of recordings of men and women reciting the sentence “I urge you to vote for me this November,” a phrase that was selected given its politically relevant and partisan-neutral nature. They found that subjects were more likely to cast more votes for male and female candidates with lower-pitched voices (Klofstad 2015).
This conclusion was mirrored in real elections: in an analysis of all 857 candidates that faced competition in the 2012 House of Representatives general election, researchers still found that the mean voice pitch of the elected candidate was lower in both females and males (Klofstad 2015). In addition, researchers identified a strong correlation between lower voice-pitch and vote share (p = 0.1% in males, and p = 2% in females.)
While the correlation between lower-pitched voices and electability is evident, it doesn’t necessarily translate to candidate caliber. Researchers calculated the leadership ability of candidates using the “Knowlegis system” created by a team of former congressional staff members, political consultants, and professional data analysts. Variables that were incorporated into the calculation included “position,” “influence”, “legislative activity”, and “sizzle/fizzle”, or a subjective metric that examined the candidate’s background and scandals (Klofstad 2018). Researchers did not find a statistically significant correlation between voice pitch and leadership ability.
Researchers also performed another randomized experiment, in which subjects listened to recordings at different voice-pitches of men and women saying political statements, like “you should support same-sex marriage,” and “you should support deportation of illegal immigrants.”
These findings are extremely relevant in today’s political climate, especially in light of the recent presidential election. Voters tend to choose the candidate with a lower-pitched voice, though there is no apparent correlation between voice pitch and candidate quality. This finding has very real implications for the electability of individuals that may stray from the status-quo voice. Being mindful of how a candidate’s physiological characteristics affect societal perception may allow voters to make more educated decisions.
Grossman, D. (2019, October 21). Fowl language: Amazonian bird’s mating call noisiest in world. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/21/fowl-language-amazonian-birds-mating-call-noisiest-in-world-white-bellbird
Pulsar Instruments Plc. (2019, July 16). Decibel chart of common sounds: Pulsar Instruments. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://pulsarinstruments.com/en/post/decibel-chart-noise-level
Tiger Communication. (2014, January 16). Retrieved November 10, 2020, from https://www.tigers-world.com/tiger-communication/
Klofstad, C. A., & Anderson, R. C. (2018). Voice pitch predicts electability, but does not signal leadership ability (Tech.). Evolution and Human Behavior. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.02.007
Klofstad, C. (2015). Candidate Voice Pitch Influences Election Outcomes (Tech.). Political Psychology. doi:10.1111/pops.12280