Home >Science >News >We ‘squeak’ when talking to more dominant people: Study
Individuals who rate themselves as high in prestige do not change how loud they are speaking, no matter who they are speaking to, say researchers. Photo: iStock
Individuals who rate themselves as high in prestige do not change how loud they are speaking, no matter who they are speaking to, say researchers. Photo: iStock

We ‘squeak’ when talking to more dominant people: Study

Regardless of self-perceived social status, people tend to talk to high status individuals using a higher pitch, say researchers

London: Our voices tend to become ‘squeaky’ and high-pitched when speaking to people of a higher social status, a study has found.

Researchers from University of Stirling in the UK put participants through a simulated job interview task. They noted that individuals’ vocal characteristics—particularly pitch—are altered in response to people of different social status.

Regardless of self-perceived social status, people tend to talk to high status individuals using a higher pitch, researchers said. “A deep, masculine voice sounds dominant, especially in men, while the opposite is true of a higher pitched voice. So, if someone perceives their interviewer to be more dominant than them, they raise their pitch," said Viktoria Mileva, from the University of Stirling in the UK.

“This may be a signal of submissiveness, to show the listener that you are not a threat, and to avoid possible confrontations," she said.

Researchers also found that participants who think they are dominant—who use methods like manipulation, coercion, and intimidation to acquire social status—are less likely to vary their pitch and will speak in a lower tone when talking to someone of a high social status.

Individuals who rate themselves as high in prestige—believe people look up to them and value their opinions, thereby granting them social status—do not change how loud they are speaking, no matter who they are speaking to, researchers said.

The team also noted that participants responded to introductory, personal, and interpersonal interview questions. They lowered the pitch of their voice most in response to the more complex, interpersonal questions, for example when explaining a conflict situation to an employer. These changes in our speech may be conscious or unconscious but voice characteristics appear to be an important way to communicate social status.

“We found both men and women alter their pitch in response to people they think are dominant and prestigious," researchers said. “Signals and perceptions of human social status have an effect on virtually every human interaction, ranging from morphological characteristics—such as face shape—to body posture, specific language use, facial expressions and voices," Mileva said.

The study was published in journal PLOS ONE.

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