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Sounds like a winner

14 March 2012

As the UK gears up for local elections and London mayoral elections in May, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that voters are more likely to choose candidates with a deeper voice.

The research, conducted by Casey Klofstad, associate professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami and Rindy C. Anderson and Susan Peters, research associates in the Department of Biology at Duke University, shows that when asked to pick a hypothetical political candidate on the basis of their voice, voters consistently choose the option with the deeper voice – whether male or female.

While previous research has hinted that voters may have such a preference, earlier experiments used recorded voices of ex-US Presidents, leading to the possibility that participants recognised the voices they were listening to and made their choices based on political preference.  Previous research has also not included female voices in the voters’ assessments.

In these experiments, researchers asked participants to listen to pairs of recorded voices saying “I urge you to vote for me this November”.  The recordings had been digitally manipulated to be in pairs of higher and lower pitch, and participants were asked to choose which voice they would vote for in an election.  In a separate experiment, participants were also asked to rate other properties of the voices, such as competence and trustworthiness.

There is a growing body of research to suggest that humans make many inferences about peoples’ characteristics based on their voice – for instance, men with deep voices are perceived to be more attractive, physically stronger and socially dominant.  However, the new research looks at voice perception in an explicitly political context, and provides some surprising food for thought.

“Our results raise the possibility that the electability of female candidates could be influenced by the fact that women tend to have higher-pitched voices than men,” says corresponding author Casey Klofstad, associate professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami.

“Women are vastly under-represented in leadership positions across the globe.  While gender discrimination is an obvious cause of the under-representation of women as leaders, our results suggest that biological differences between the sexes, and our responses to those difference, could potentially be an additional factor to consider.”

“This study also demonstrates that while people are free to choose their leaders, these choices cannot be understood in isolation from biological influences.   The selection of leaders is the main mechanism that the members of a society have for affecting how they will be governed, however within the context of modern democracies, most citizens are not politically engaged.  Consequently, the selection of leaders is often made based on impressionistic judgements, and our research suggests that voice perception could be one of the factors that voters take into account.”