- Many people will admit to not liking the sound of their own voice.
- Your voice is the sound you’ll hear the most in your life, but weirdly, you’re not all that familiar with it.
- It’s partly because you hear your voice through bone, while everyone else hears it through the air.
- Also, your body is really effective at filtering out its own sounds.
- You also probably think your voice is fine when you don’t realise it’s yours.
- There are a few psychological reasons for the phenomenon, but ultimately how you sound isn’t something to be ashamed of — it shows off who you are.
Back in ancient Greece, actors would wear a mask called a „persona.“ The functions were two-fold: to portray a different character, and to carry their voices further around the atrium.
Since then, the word „person“ in English, derived from persona, is the simplest definition for what we are. Our voices, according to vocal researcher at MIT Rébecca Kleinberger, are a means of expression, both to others and within ourselves.
„I like to think of the voice as a projection of ourselves,“ Kleinberger told INSIDER. „It projects into the world, and its also a marker for fluid identity. Who are we? And how do we accept ourselves?“
Despite this strong connection between body and voice, many of us struggle with the sound of our own. When hearing it on a recording, people tend to cringe and ask „is that what I really sound like?“
We asked Kleinberger why is it we sound so different when we hear our voice back, compared to what we hear in our head. She said it’s primarily down to filters.
In the way our body is laid out, our mouth is pretty close to our ears, but we hear our own voice through our bone. Other people hear it through the air. Bone and air have very different densities, so the sound is filtered differently — it’s simple physics.
„So when you hear other people talk, or when people hear you talking, the sound is transmitted through air, which has its own way of filtering sounds,“ Kleinberger said. „What does that mean? It means if I look at the spectrum of my voice when it leaves my lips, when it arrives to your ear, it’s slightly different.“
The human voice spectrum also has many peaks when you look at it on a graph, whereas with a musical instrument, you will clearly see one individual peak.
People can change the pitch of their voice by going higher and lower, but they can also make different noises, like „ahh,“ „ee,“ and „oo.“ All of these different sounds, as well as the relative difference between the peaks they make, mean human voices can have a musical quality.
„When you play a chord on the piano, you have several peaks,“ said Kleinberger. „And the relative differences between those peaks are going to make how the chord sounds in terms of the western definition of harmony.“
When you hear your own voice, the bone filters out some of the higher frequencies and keeps more of the low ones, so you’re almost hearing yourself more musically harmoniously than other people hear it.
What’s going on inside the ear
The organ inside your ear that transforms sound into electrical signals that your brain then interprets is called the cochlear. It looks a bit like a snail shell, and if you unroll it, it looks like a ribbon. All along that ribbon are ear cells that each react to a different sound frequency.
When certain cells are triggered over and over again, they get tired and the threshold becomes higher. In the short term, this means you’ll stop hearing the fan of your computer after a while. In the long term, it means they can get damaged over time or even die, which is what happens when people go deaf as they got older.
„Your voice is the sound you hear the most in your life,“ Kleinberger said. „Which also means the ear cells that are located in those positions are being fired all the time, so they get more tired and their own threshold lowers.
Biologically, our bodies are good at filtering out all the sounds it is constantly making. For example, our heartbeat and the rushing of blood in our veins, and the shock every time we place our feet on the ground while walking.
When you open your mouth and close your mouth, you hear things slightly differently. And one of the consequences of this is it protects your ears when you make sounds. The auditory cortex in the brain shuts down when you’re talking too, so your brain doesn’t really react much.
So although we constantly hear our voice on one level, we are simultaneously aware and unaware of it at the same time.
Why it makes us uncomfortable
There are a few reasons why we don’t particularly like the sound of our own voice, said Kleinberger. One is that voices reveal a lot about a person — their emotions, their mental state, and where they’re from. But it’s a lot harder to pick up on these subtleties in your own voice.
„The [area in the brain] that is so sensitive to other voices, this is just not active when we talk,“ Kleinberger said. „So we have to make an extra effort to be aware of everything we transmit through our voice.“
Generally, we don’t do that, she said, so when we hear our voice on a recording it’s usually much higher than we think, and full of tiny cues about our emotions and imperfections that we can’t control.
„But what’s also interesting is there is a paradox here,“ she continued. „We don’t actually dislike our voice, we only dislike it when we know it’s our voice.“
Studies have shown how people don’t mind their own voice when they don’t realise it belongs to them. In fact, they even rate it as more attractive than other people do.
„But as soon as they knew it was their voice they rated it way lower,“ said Kleinberger. „So somehow we don’t dislike our voice, we only dislike it when we realise it’s our voice.“
Finding the natural beauty of your voice
Journalists, singers, and radio presenters hear their own voices all the time. Part of getting over the cringing is listening to yourself repeatedly so you get desensitised to it, but Kleinberger said this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people will never get over the discomfort of having to hear themselves.
„What’s also interesting is when you hear your voice, is it exactly your voice or is it not your voice?“ she said. „Because even though recorders are good, microphones are really good, speakers are really good, headphones are really good — they are still not perfect.“
Even if a recording is exactly how you sound, it’s not something you should be ashamed of. Voice coaches will work with people and teach them tricks of how to make their voice more attractive, to make it higher or lower, or remove or add an accent, but Kleinberger stays away from this advice.
Someone’s voice reveals a lot about them as a person, and by changing it, you’re reinforcing the idea that there’s one way to be and everyone should follow that blueprint. Like physical attractiveness, the beauty of your voice is subjective.
Just like the Ancient Greeks used „personas“ to express a character and project louder, our voice is a mask in a way as well. It’s not exactly who we are, because it changes depending on who we’re with, our hormones, and what age we are throughout our lives. But there is a lot of potential in using the voice as a tool to help people interact better.
„Our voice is a mask because it helps us express ourselves, it helps us share who we are inside, but it is still just a projection,“ said Kleinberger.
„I try to explain how much richness there is to discover from the voice — where we come from, what our life has been like, or what stage of our life are we in right now… And I think that’s more interesting in terms of self reflection that just following a model.“
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Source: Business insider