If you don't have a big stick, don't bother speaking softly.
A recent study from the Columbia School of Business found that when people were put in positions of power, their voices automatically rose in loudness variability and pitch, but lowered in pitch variability, becoming more monotone.
"What that means is their voices basically are both dynamic but in control," Columbia Professor Adam Galinsky tells Mash. He co-authored the study and helped lead the experiment with San Diego State University psychologists Sei Jin Ko and Dr. Melody S. Sadler.
The experiment started by measuring the voices of 161 students, who were all asked to read the same passage. Then, the students were immersed in a negotiation exercise. Half were given varying positions of high power. Some were told they had “inside information,” or were prompted beforehand to remember a time in their lives when they had high power. The other half were given low power status.
Once in the scenario, the students in high power positions changed their voices in measurable ways. Furthermore, a controlled group of listeners picked up on the vocal changes, able to indicate who had power.
Ko tells Mash that, initially, they asked subjects to describe the characteristics of a powerful voice. Preconceived notions, such as a deep voice, were quickly squashed.
"Many of the characteristics they verbalized were very different from what they were using," she says. "There’s some preliminary evidence, we feel, to suggest that it’s really not a conscious process."
However, some people have learned to consciously apply the tricks of powerful voices. Researchers used a fascinating subject for comparison: Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of the UK, who underwent vocal training to appear more powerful.
"Lo and behold, in five of the six dimensions of the acoustic properties of the voice, Margaret Thatcher’s voice changed in the exact same direction of our participants after she was prime minister," Galinsky explains.
Though he wasn't analyzed for the experiment, Ko also cites Winston Churchill as a speaker with a "dynamic" voice, though she can't speak to his scientific vocal changes.
"There are many factors that play into whether someone is seen as powerful, especially with politicians," Ko says.
How power affects the brain.
"What power does is it basically just changes people's basic psychological state," Galinsky says.
There's a reason people say someone is "drunk on power." It has three major effects, Galinsky says: It reduces the stress hormone cortisol, activates the action-oriented part of the brain and raises confidence levels. No wonder everyone is so hungry for it.
The study also showed that men and women were equally affected by the vocal change.
For the naturally quiet
The research results might come as bad news for people who are naturally quiet or soft-spoken. However, because of the subconscious nature of vocal change, there's no need to start practicing a higher pitch. Instead, Galinksy says you're much better off "thinking about a time in which you had power."
"It changes brain activation, it changes stress hormones, all these things," Galinsky says. "You can become that person with the dynamic, controlled voice."
Tags: HEALTH & FITNESS, JOBS, LIFESTYLE, LINGUISTICS, POWER, PSYCHOLOGY, research, VOICES