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What Your Voice Can Say About Your Personality


"You don't want a really untrustworthy voice running your call center."

How you say "hello" could reveal some significant things about your personality, according to a new study.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

The study led by Phil McAleer at the University of Glasgow found that personality judgements are   made in a split-second by the listener, but it's not clear yet just how accurate those snap judgements can be.

Judging a person's personality based on visual clues has already been studied, as has evaluating personality after listening to longer periods of speech, but this study used short sound snippets of 64 people saying "hello." More than 300 participants who listened to the clips were asked to describe what they perceived out of 10 personality traits, which included trustworthiness, likability, aggressiveness and dominance, measuring them on a scale from one to nine.

"We tested whether personality ratings, for both male and female voices, would be consistent across listeners, and if so, would they be appropriately summarized by a two-dimensional ‘social voice space,’ similar to previous findings in face perception. Furthermore, given the lack of understanding of the underlying acoustics of such spaces, eight acoustical measures, summarizing voice production, were tested for a relationship to any resultant summary spaces," McAleer et al. wrote.

The study found listeners' ratings of perceived personality traits were in fact very similar to each other.

"Listeners show high agreement when deriving first impressions of novel speakers," McAleer at al. wrote. "Furthermore, first impression of vocal attractiveness in male voices relates to perceived strength, whilst in females, vocal attractiveness relates to perceived warmth and trustworthiness."

Though McAleer told New Scientist it was surprising just how consistent ratings were among listeners, he thinks there might be an evolutionary reason as to why personality could be judged by a short clip of someone's voice.

"There's this evolutionary 'approach/avoidance' idea -- you want to quickly know if you can trust a person so you can approach them or run away and that would be redundant if it took too long to figure it out," McAleer said.

From a use standpoint, the authors believe the study provides an empirical basis for judging personality by the sound of a person's voice.

"In establishing the acoustics that drive certain percepts, people and algorithms may be instructed on the necessary alterations to obtain a desired projection: this has endless application in fields as diverse as business, computing, engineering and advertising," they explained.

More specifically, McAleer gave New Scientist examples that Margaret Thatcher and England's Queen Elizabeth II were rumored to have trained their voices to sound more dominant.

He also noted that such analysis could be used because "you don't want a really untrustworthy voice running your call center."

The study findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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