Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another Thought about the Relationship of Voice and Power

Last week I wrote about academic studies that connected male (but not female) low-pitched voices to power, money, and leadership. Here's another thought:

The range of pitches at which we speak is technically determined by the length and thickness of our vocal cords. Longer, thicker cords can produce lower pitches. Young boys and girls speak at about the same pitch level, until boys reach puberty and their vocal cords begin to lengthen and thicken.

I received a note from a kindergarten teacher complaining that my daughter spoke at "too low a pitch." Nonsense. I'm a contralto, her father was a bass so, genetically, it's likely that our daughter's vocal cords were slightly longer and thicker at birth than those of the other girls in her class.       

But there's another element at play here. Children learn to speak, not by imitating sounds, but by imitating the muscle movements of their primary caretakers. I'm a trained singer, so the movements my daughter was imitating when she learned to speak were different than those of her classmates' mothers.

And here we get to the problem in many of the research studies: A well-produced voice is dependent, not on the vocal cords, but on the size, texture, and shape of the resonating chambers of the body. If the body isn't open to the sound waves produced by the vocal cords, the listener will perceive the speaker as having any number of unattractive attributes - shallow, too tightly controlled, narcissistic, are only a few examples. 

How we hold our bodies, our posture, is the physical representation of our emotional state. Our voices are the aural representation of our bodies, and therefore our emotions. If a man walks into an interview with a weak neck (which subconsciously is perceived as subservient), it won't matter a bean how low his voice is pitched. 


1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying your observations on voice and power. I've learned to trust my responses to situations in which my voice disappears. I've noticed it happens in certain social gatherings like cocktail parties. Suddenly I have no voice. So I'm learning to either avoid such situations or become the observer--lots of nods and smiles. No words.