How To Influence People With Your Voice According To Science

To advance in a career and even in life it’s important to cultivate an image of respect so that people take your suggestions seriously. While that seems like something that would take years and maybe a doctorate, it may actually be fairly easy to learn how to influence people with your voice, by simply pitching it lower. Several new studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that people who pitch their voice lower in the first moments of a conversation were seen as more dominant, and thus more influential. The recent rash of popular techniques to gain confidence before going into a big meeting or a networking event, such as Amy Cuddy’s power poses have made people more conscious of the type of image they project — and now we can add "power voices" to the list. If the studies' results are correct, you could actually win or lose an argument within your first three statements.

"In the past, we focused a lot on posture and tended to neglect things like the voice. But this study clearly shows that there's something about the voice that's very interesting and very effective as a channel of dynamically communicating status," Joey Cheng, a professor of psychology at University of Illinois, who led the investigation into how a human voice can signal status along with associates from the University of British Columbia and Harvard, told the Illinois News Bureau.


To test how vocal pitch correlates to dominance in a group setting, researchers observed interactions between 191 participants, ranging in age from 17 to 52. After subjects were asked to grade 15 objects in order of importance for surviving a lunar disaster, they were broken into small groups to discuss the same problem. Researchers reviewed videotapes of these meetings and used phonetic analysis software to precisely pinpoint the frequencies of speech.

The participants whose pitch went down between their first and third remarks were considered more dominant and thus more influential than those whose vocal pitch rose. This is not the first research that recommends pitching the voice lower for business. Judith Dwyer in her book Communication For Business And The Professions writes that "A higher voice pitch than usual is interpreted as dishonesty or discomfort... Someone who raises their voice at the end of a sentence may sound uncertain and less authoritative than one who ends a sentence with a lower pitch."

In a second experiment testing influence, 274 participants listened to recordings of three statements thus taking away the visual aspect of influence. The pitch of the voice was either increased or decreased again between the first and third proclamation. "They don't get to see anything or anyone, and they just make judgments about the person in the recordings, and we found that when the voice in the recording goes down in pitch, people judge the person as wanting to be more influential, more powerful, more intimidating or more domineering," concluded Cheng.

However, dominance alone will not always get your point across. Those viewed as “prestigious” and worthy of respect were also deemed influential in the small groups — so never fear if you can’t speak in a smooth low voice like Morgan Freeman narrating March of The Penguins!

Oh. You thought you cared so much about those penguins because they were cute? Yeah, right.

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Cheng concludes that prestige and dominance are both important for cultivating influence, "But only dominance is about fear and intimidation, and only dominance is related in this study to changes in the pitch of one's voice. How you change your voice does not appear to be related to how much respect you win."

So next time you walk into that important meeting, deepen your voice and see what happens!


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