Hitting the Right Pitch

A recent study from McMaster University, examined in an article from the BBC, has found that voters prefer politicians with lower-pitched voices.

Not only have experts found that “the lower-voiced candidates won every US presidential election between 1960 and 2000” but also that voters find lower-pitched voices more attractive and associate them with authority, dominance and leadership.

To undertake the study, researchers manipulated “archive recordings of US presidents…to create lower and higher-pitched versions of each voice and listeners were asked to rate them.” The 125 research participants all “preferred candidates with lower-pitched voices.”

What does this have to do with women in politics?

Well, women tend to have higher-pitched voices than men.

Now, which one is "too emotional"?

Many politicians, male and female alike, get voice-coaching to learn to control pitch and pauses, but one can only manipulate their own voice so much. There is no doubt that this type of leadership indicator factors heavily on women. In fact, the article notes that former “British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had vocal coaching to lower the pitch of her voice” but apparently she “went too far . . . she lost credibility because it sounded patronising.”

Interestingly, a psychologist is quoted as saying, “when people go too high-pitched, it sounds emotional and less trust-worthy,” which indicates that even based on this ‘voice psychology’, many female candidates are put at a disadvantage the moment they open their mouths. And there are similar studies on leadership perceptions based on other physical traits, such as height and facial symmetry, which voters have been found to have strong preference for.

And who’s to blame? No one–we don’t even know it’s affecting our decisions.

On the bright side, this knowledge makes it all the more impressive when leaders who don’t fit this cookie-cutter look are elected.

Just some food for thought – it can be helpful to learn of the subtle things that factor into our perceptions of leaders.


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