Subjectivity in Voice Perception
While we don’t consciously listen to an individual’s voice attributes, we do subconsciously assess the voice’s characteristics and create inferences about the speaker. By itself, voice impacts our perceptions, which affects how we well we understand a particular message.
In healthcare, it is a common belief that people prefer a female voice when receiving messages about their health. But, is a female voice equally effective when communicating to all people, of every age, in every region, and for every type of health related behavior?
To answer this question, we surveyed 3,000 individuals on their response to different voices. Participants heard the same short informational wellness message spoken by several different people representing a variety of ages, gender, and unique voice characteristics. Survey responders were asked their opinions on the following:
Is the voice perceived negatively or positively?
What attributes are used to describe a particular voice?
Is the voice perceived as introverted, extroverted, formal, or conversational?
Is the voice perceived as coming from someone who is sincere or insincere?
Do people believe and trust the voice?
The survey results provide a powerful depiction of how different voices are perceived by different segments of a population (see figure 1).
What’s In a Voice?
High trust and sincerity ratings are important factors when trying to motivate health behaviors. When people trust the voice they hear they are more likely to change their behavior.
There are many interesting attitudinal findings from our study including:
· Both men and women across all age groups preferred a male voice to a female voice overall.
· Voices described as fast paced, young, highly extroverted, perky, and animated rated poorly in the trustworthy and caring categories.
· Voices described as moderately paced, middle-aged, and well-spoken, were rated most trustworthy and caring.
· Seniors (those 65+ years old) aren’t as sensitive to voice age as other groups and don’t perceive older voices as necessarily older sounding.
· Young people showed stronger opinions when rating the voice gender they prefer.
The Use of Voice to Motivate Health Decisions
The results of this study provide insight into how people of varying gender, age, region, and health status perceive the voices they hear. By validating attitudinal voice responses with behavioral activity, voice can become a measurable best practice in healthcare communications.
Our voice research suggests that there are opportunities to use a male voice to measurably move health behavior. A recent colorectal cancer screening program supports our research. The same survey message was delivered by a male and a female voice. All population segments participated at a higher rate when a male voice was used.
By applying science and measurement, we can determine the voice qualities that are the most impactful for a specific health behavior and for a group of people. There are measurable patterns in overall voice preference. Communications programs aimed at driving individual behavior should include voice analysis. By measuring and understanding perceived voice personality, our research sheds light on an objective way to effectively apply voice in healthcare communications to ultimately impact behavior change.
Jack Newsom, ScD, Vice President of Analytics, Silverlink Communications
Ryan Robbins, Voice Production Manager, Silverlink Communications
For further information, go to: Silverlink
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