Monday, January 24, 2011

High Pitched Voices

One thing I find surprising in modern America is the number of women with high-pitched voices. Now, I may be imagining this, but to my ear the average Australian girl speaks at something closer to the alto rather than soprano end of the scale like here. And this puzzles me, because we're talking about white people drawn from fairly similar Anglo-Saxon and European genetic stock. I don't know of any obvious 'high-pitched' races, and certainly not any that also would explain (by virtue of differing demographic representations) the average female pitch in the two countries.

But here's where it gets weird - we normally think that voice pitch as something you're born with. It wouldn't be high on my list of culturally determined things, and certainly not something that people deliberately change.

And yet that's where the data seems to point me. Either consciously or unconsciously, some fraction of women are deliberately speaking in higher pitched voices. My guess is that part of the appeal is that of appearing more girly and youthful. Women's voices drop too when they hit puberty, but not by nearly as much as men. By talking like an 8 year old, it has the same appeal as getting a Brazilian wax, but visible for the whole world.

Consistent with this, having a high-pitched voice is a fairly strong negative signal on my 3 second judgments of personality. This is not because I find the actual voice intolerable, or because it's a massive moral or character failing. But it's about correlations - a desire to make yourself look artificially girly and innocent is likely to be correlated with you being superficial and annoying (conditional on the voice being artificially high, and not just naturally high).

The signals to respond to the most are those that are the most informative about personality in general, not necessarily those that are the biggest problems in themselves. Can you think of any other signal of superficiality that you can identify within half a second of a person talking, regardless of what they're talking about?

Me neither.

No comments:

Post a Comment