How we talk to others changes depending on the perceived status of the person we are talking to, scientists found. Dr Viktoria Mileva from the University of Stirling, Scotland, found through a series of experiments that participants were speaking in higher pitched voices when the status of the interlocutor was perceived as high.
During the study, participants engaged in simulated job interviews. When the interviewer’s status was indicated as high, participants were using higher pitch voices.
Deep and masculine voices sound dominant, believes Dr Mileva. Men in the study noticeably modified their voices, consciously or unconsciously, when talking to an individual, whom they perceived higher in status.
- At the same time, the study found, manipulative people tended to lower their voices in conversations with high-status individuals.
- People who were self-confident and considered themselves as high-status individuals, didn’t wary their pitch significantly and were talking in the same voice to both higher and lower status individuals.
It is widely known that voice characteristics form an essential part of non-verbal message during a conversation.
There was a clear difference in how people responded to interviewers who they thought were higher in status as compared to neutral targets.
- The interviewers profiles, available to participants beforehand, were manipulated in order to appear either dominant (manipulative), prestige (authoritative), or neutral. The profiles were pre-scored by other test subjects to confirm the impression of the social status as either neutral, dominant, or prestige.
How the study was conducted
24 male and 24 female participants were included in the study. Responses of participants during the interview were recorded on video and audio. Participants were also scored for dominance and prestige, to determine their self-status.
Participants were asked to record answers to 3 questions by the supposed employer, who was not in the room and only represented through the employer profile:
- Introductory: Please introduce yourself in a few phrases to this employer.
- Personal: Please tell this employer why you are a good candidate for the job.
- Interpersonal: If you had a problem with you co-worker, how would you tell about it to your boss?
During introductory statements there were no significant difference in voice pitch, depending on the person they were relating to. But personal and interpersonal questions showed strong trend for modification.
As opposed to men, female participants were talking in lower, not higher voices to higher-ranked individuals. Female participants who perceived themselves as more dominant, were lowering their voices in relation to all targets.