A Speaker's Voice – A Personality Giveaway?

There are lots of studies showing that the frequency of our voice is important in how others perceive us and how this trends towards assuming stereotypes, but how much of our personalities are really revealed by the frequency of a speaker’s voice? Is it cursory or does it give a deep insight?

Hu et al in last weeks PLoS one uses frequency analysis to try to correlate personality traits to the voice frequency of replies to yes or no questions, which were answered truthfully or falsely (1).

The aim of the project was based on the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire that is intended to identify the Big Five traits. This is known as the P-E-N system where E is a measure of ones extravertedness, N is ones tendency to neurotic behavior, and the P is our psychoticism or socialization.

Someone with a low E and N rating would be calm and thoughtful; high N and low E – moody and pessimistic; high E and low N – easy going and chatty; high E and N – excitable and touchy.

The experiments with 22 young men and 24 young women undergrads involved them answering the personality questionnaire by chatting to the computer. They could only say yes or no in Chinese, (that is shi or bushi in an anglicized script.) They also had questions on a Social Desirability feature and this gave them the biggest opportunity to lie.

 Their voice frequency patterns were analyzed. On balance there was more lying than truth telling going on. It was possible to correlate a truthful yes frequency range with neuroticism and psychoticism and a truthful no negatively correlated with extraversion. Neuroticism negatively correlated with frequency in all responses.

Clearly when we listen to our used car salesmen, our bankers or our politicians we need to do more that just listen to what they are promising, we will need to ask questions and analyze the frequency spectra of their replies. We need some enterprising young person to build a smartphone app for this.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0033906

Leave a Reply