Voice and mood

Human voice is the most complex instrument we know. With our voice we influence all around us in many ways and our voice often reveals our mood. Just think of your pet: Doesn’t it always miraculously seem to know how you feel?

mood dice
By Intgr (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
What your cat or dog, your kids or your love know by instinct is heavily investigated by science and mercilessly exploited by marketing and sales experts. Have you ever wondered why there are so many commercials trying to make you buy a car, an insurance or a perfume use voices of whispering or breathless women?

What creators of commercials know by instinct is has been proven by scientists at the UCL. They have researched about human voices and found out that whispering and husky or smoky voices are the most attractive for men.  As voice is an attractiveness factor for people, commercials, radio stations and public speakers use this knowledge and take the voice aspect very serious for every commercial use.

Men prefer higher pitched and husky voices in a wide frequency range in women. They associate this to a small body and therefore with their ideal of women: Not too intimidating and receptive for protection. That is more or less a subconscious trait for the majority of men.

Women prefer lower pitched voices with a narrow frequency range in men, as they tend to associate a bigger body with that. And they too are impressed by “smoky” voices, as this seems to mitigate the aggressiveness of a big male body.

How does voice reveal our mood?

How is voice formed? We have a natural hardware consisting of resonance room inside our skull, larynx and lungs. The vocal cords in the larynx act like the mouthpiece of a trumpet, converting the vibrating air of the lungs into vowels and consonants. The cords are collagenous fibers resting on a muscle.

Men and women have differing length of the vocal folds, so the anatomy of both genders is linked to a typical pitch. The timbre however is determined by the vertical position of the larynx as it accounts for the contractions of the vocal cords. The primary function of the larynx is to prevent any objects to enter the lungs. This mechanism works as a reflex. Interesting fact is that even the slightest changes in our mental state have an immediate reflection in the way the larynx reacts. That is why we instinctively seem to recognize a person’s mood when he or she talks.

If the muscles in the larynx go up, the voice becomes higher and brighter. This can be an indicator of stress, fear or nervousnes. On the contrary, when a person feels relaxed, the voice remains natural or even lower. And when someone gets into a special mood … guess what? Yes, it get’s husky, smoky, breathless

Our voice and language account for a bunch of unconscious impressions we have on someone in the first seconds of an encounter.  And we react to that.

Take the mirror neurons as example: Yes, the ones that control our empathy levels. They make us clear our throats when a lecturer is croaking. A high pitched cry is an alarm signal that we also react immediately, especially if it comes from a child.

And there are other effects related to social behavior. We think that someone with a good voice and an harmonic speech has a high education level.The biggest financial scam were perpetrated were highly educated people, or so their clients thought. And most probably, the voice and speech played a mayor role in this.

People who pronounce numbers in a very clear way are thought of being better mathematicians. And someone whose voice timbre resembles the voice of a near person in our childhood will automatically get more credit from us. Just listen to “mother voices” in commercials, you will realize the trick inmediately.

There are more instinct assumptions. We associate people with high self confidence to a strong voice. People wanting to lead a group will often enforce their voices to get this extra strong touch. All this is trained and used by professional actors and speakers.

But in real life it may be difficult to fake a cool state being really stressed.

As a sound or music creator you can use this sort of associations for your music: Do you want to recreate a comforting voice for you baby’s sleep music? Record his mothers voice singing a lullaby and mix it with familiar sounds. You will get it to sleep like a baby again.

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